Earlier this year, my mom and I were discussing holiday preparations and Christmas cookie recipes when she mentioned that my dad had bought a special gift for the two grandchildren, my 4-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old niece. “He got the girls tablets,” my mom told me. And I almost spit out whatever I was drinking. I could not imagine giving a kindergartner a tablet for Christmas.
A couple of days later, I sat down to lunch with my dad. “Did you really get the girls tablets?” I asked him. I was just shocked at the idea. So my lovely father explained his reasoning. And really, he sold me on it.
First of all, my daughter and her cousin had spent their entire lives seeing each other on a weekly basis. Really, they were more like siblings than cousins. They shared everything. They spent an enormous amount of time together. They were best friends. Then, my sister and her family moved three hours away. The transition was proving to be extremely difficult for both girls. Giving them tablets allowed them to call each other with Skype whenever they wanted.
Aside from Skype, the mini-machines had a few choice games that the girls were already used to from our smartphones, Angry Birds and Ant Smashers and the like. They were connected to our Netflix accounts, so the girls could watch cartoons and movies on demand. And they had a large selection of e-books ready for the girls to peruse. The tablets weren’t going to have data plans to be used anywhere, they would simply hook up to available WiFi.
To set up the computers, the girls got their own emails and Google Play accounts. My dad also took the time to load some family pictures and kid’s music. These little computers were by far the most elaborate gifts that the girls would get for Christmas.
But the things were not without controls. They could not make or receive calls from anyone that we hadn’t added to their contact list on Skype. They could only visit sites pre-approved and programmed by my sister and I. They could not purchase anything without our confirming it. Yes, they were computers, but they were safely monitored computers.
When I mentioned that my daughter has a tablet at such a young age, some of our commenters were a little incredulous. And some seemed to have genuine rage for the whole idea. In plenty of ways, I can understand their shock. I had it too.
But in practice, my daughter having a tablet is no different than her having a Leapster or a V-Reader, both of which millions of children received for the holidays. Both of which my daughter has received as gifts before without anyone thinking twice about it. Her tablet lets her read and interact with books. She’s currently working her way through an amazing dinosaur encyclopedia for kids. It lets her play little games, some of which have educational value and some of which don’t. And it lets her connect with her cousin, her best friend whom she dearly misses.
Just like any toy or gift my daughter receives, her tablet can be restricted. So far, she doesn’t use it enough to be a concern. I would estimate she spends all of two to three hours a week on the thing. If she was using it everyday, I might consider keeping it in my room and making her ask to use it. For right now, that’s simply not necessary.
Some might call my daughter’s tablet an indulgence, and sure it is. No child needs to have a computer at such a young age. But that does not mean that a tablet is inappropriate for a child so young. As long as she knows that it is a special gift that needs to be respected and well-cared for, and as long as my husband and I monitor her activity and how much time she spends on it, I think it’s a wonderful toy for her.
What’s more than that, a single toy or gadget does not make a child spoiled. Spending money is really not the key to spoiling a kid. There are lots of well-to-do children who are polite, respectful and grateful. And there are lots of kids whose parents can’t afford computers for the entire family that have not been taught to care for those around them or to empathize with other human beings. Being spoiled is an attitude. Anyone who thinks that such an attitude can come from a machine is missing the mark.
I wasn’t sure when I first heard about this gift. I was doubtful and a little shocked. But now, you won’t see me apologizing or feeling bad because my 4-year-old happens to have a high-tech toy. It’s perfect for her, and both she and I are grateful for it.