I can still remember the play phones my grandma gave to my older siblings and me when I was very little. I believe two were push buttons and one was rotary! (Yes, I’m that old.)
The phones were brightly colored and so fun to play with.
Fast-forward a few decades, and every child from teen to baby has a phone. Some play, but mostly real.
When my niece was born a few years ago I picked out a cute little wooden cell phone toy as a baby gift. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was non-toxic and the perfect size for little hands.
But looking back I wonder if that was not such a great gift.
It’s easy to see that kids are drawn to methods of communication, regardless of how technology has changed over the years. I mean, how great to be able to talk to Grandma even if she lives far away, right?!
But is it really a good idea? Let’s explore the idea of cell phones for toddlers and babies a bit more. Fair warning that this post may sting a little…
Cell Phones for Toddlers?
Here’s the problem. Whether the phone is real or fake, by giving cell phones to babies and toddlers you may be setting them up for failure.
It’s no secret that there are downsides to screens. Two of the biggest in my book are:
- short attention span
- mood/behavior issues
Any mom that has let her toddler watch a YouTube video on her phone knows how hard it is to turn it off. Once a child experiences that fast-paced stimulation, they want more. If this scenario starts to repeat, you soon find yourself with a child that thinks all things in life should be exciting and constantly changing. Already as a toddler he or she is losing the ability to focus and problem solve.
This means life actually gets HARDER for you, not easier. Technology is sneaky like that. We get a momentary reward but long-term consequences.
Then there are the mood swings. It doesn’t take long for a child to start throwing tantrums when his or her quick fix is taken away. This is just one of the reasons your toddler might have tantrums.
Even a fake phone teaches kids to carry a device in their hands. It becomes second nature.
Is a Cell Phone Obsession a Learned Behavior?
Kids learn by observing.
Fifty years ago a toddler didn’t know how to choose YouTube videos because he had never seen anyone do it. Instead, he watched Mom cooking pot roast or Dad mowing the lawn.
So what do young kids observe these days? The real problem – Mom and Dad glued to cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Whether for personal or business use, there is practically no escaping this influence.
Over the course of the past decade we, as parents, have lost our own attention spans. I am guilty as charged.
When my oldest was born in 2008 I didn’t even know how to send a text message. I used to sit with my daughter for hours playing, reading, crafting, and letting her help me with whatever I was doing.
Fast forward thirteen years, and I find it hard to sit with my two-year-old for more than twenty minutes. Yes, my life is much busier now with four kids, homeschooling, a farm, and running my own Nutritional Therapy Practice. But busyness aside, I know my attention span is not what it used to be.
Our culture has created a distracted mindset. We want a quick mood booster – a like on social media, new followers, increased page views, or simply scrolling to see what else is going on in the world and to be entertained…all while ignoring what’s going on in our own homes.
If kids see Mom and Dad living a fast-paced life where they are constantly on the phone, checking social media, playing mindless games, and trying to fit in too many to-do’s in a day, it’s natural that they will do it too.
It’s sad seeing toddlers trying to play multi-task with a cell phone on their shoulder. Honestly, it’s pretty sobering to watch.
The Dangers of Giving Our Phones to Kids
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen a mom out for a walk or jog, pushing a stroller…and seeing a toddler in the stroller staring at a screen! While Mom is getting exercise and sun, the child is lounging with a shade over his head and a cell phone or tablet in his hands.
I see parents handing their toddlers devices the instant they get in the car or in a shopping cart to keep them “entertained” while riding.
Do you see a trend?
From a very young age, we are teaching our kids that there is no value in quiet, in sitting with your own thoughts, in observing the world around you. Or better yet the value in proper communication.
Kids don’t know how to talk to each other or to adults because they are so busy looking at a screen.
Giving toddlers cell phones is a dangerous practice.
Alternate Entertainment for Babies and Toddlers
How about we open the stroller shade and talk to our toddlers about what we see while we walk? Or slow our pace a bit and let them walk with us?
How about we turn up the music in the car and sing with our kids? Or turn it off and have a conversation?
There are simple alternatives to cell phones to entertain babies and toddlers. At home, any toy is a good solution! Teach your kids to play.
Take a moment to think back to your own childhood. What did you do while your parents were busy? What did you do while riding in the car?
Here are some simple screen alternatives for toddlers. Some are well-suited for on-the-go. Others are great at home.
- Coloring book + crayons
- Boogie Board
- Stuffed animals
- Melissa & Doug Water Wow
- Books on CD
- Mini trampoline with a handle
- Beans on a tray with cups, spoons, and bowls
- Water table or playing at the sink with dishes
- Play kitchen and dishes
- Stringing beads
- Lacing cards
- Sorting toys
Remember, there is no harm in giving a toddler a coloring book and crayons or a book to look at while you drive. Let them use their brains a little.
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Create a Family Culture That Doesn’t Revolve Around Screens
The solution also extends to the entire family. As parents, we must model the behavior we want our kids to imitate. So it starts with Mom and Dad.
Create your own personal guidelines with screens.
Set limits on your use in terms of work time, personal time, and family time. This could mean no screens at the table or during certain hours of the day. Once you create your own guidelines, stick to them!
Then talk to your kids about your family rules around screens. Older kids will be able to understand guidelines. Younger kids will learn by observing.
Let your kids know the benefits of using cell phones, like communication, school work, and practical aspects of life like looking up a recipe or directions. But also let them know the limitations and downfalls of screens, such as cognitive decline, self-esteem issues, comparing yourself with others, bullying, and inappropriate content.
While some kids may resist at first, setting boundaries is very healthy and will benefit them in the long run.
Are Phones Good for Kids?
Picture a toddler that feels the need to look at a screen for every car ride, shopping trip, and moment of downtime, or else she throws a tantrum.
Now picture another toddler that looks at books in the car, helps Mom pick out fruits and veggies at the store, and creates towers and construction sites with blocks while Dad is making dinner.
Which child do you think is more likely to be a critical thinker, have the ability to appropriately express emotions, and be curious about the world?
It’s not hard to choose.
Let Kids be Kids
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, my mission is to allow kids to feel like carefree kids. This includes infants and toddlers. It takes proper nutrition and a nourishing lifestyle.
But it also takes intentionality from Mom and Dad.
Surprisingly it’s not usually the kids that have the hardest time with change. It’s the caregivers!
So it’s up to you to go against the grain. Be a leader in getting our kids back to childhood. They don’t need an adult level of stimulation and information at a young age.
Drop the distractions. Get your kids outside exploring and observing the world. Introduce them to quality literature. Teach them how to cook (yes, even two-year-olds can cook!). Let them help around the house.
I will admit that my kids play with my old cell phones here and there. But it’s mostly just to “make a call.”
My kids use the computer for some schoolwork and a YouTube video here and there. But none of them (even my 13-year-old) has their own phone or another electronic device. In fact, we only have one computer for the whole family!
Every time I do let my toddler watch a video (for something fun with me sitting with him) it turns into an instant meltdown when I turn it off. It does not take much for a child to get into the always wanting more mindset. So we keep screens very limited. It’s just not worth it.
There is a place for cell phones and technology. In the hands of a toddler is not one of them.