• Sun, Nov 3 - 1:00 pm ET

My 3-Year-Old Got An iPhone For His Birthday

tumblr_msakhqhiAV1s3cqiio1_1280I had this conversation with my sister last week.

Sister:We’re giving your son an iPhone for his birthday. It’s our old 3G one. 

Me: No. That’s ridiculous. I’m not buying my 3-year-old a data plan.

S: You don’t have to. You have Internet. He can watch the YouTube videos he likes.

M: My 3-year-old can’t have his own iPhone. I didn’t get my first one until I was 38.

S: He’ll stop using yours.

M: Okay. You can give it to him.

And that’s how my 3-year-old got an iPhone for his birthday.

A couple times a day we let our son look at our iPhones. I downloaded a Bubble Guppies alphabet game he likes to play with, and my husband did the same but with a Minions game. It’s pretty ridiculous; an iPhone is an expensive piece of machinery. When I first got mine, I didn’t even take it with me until I had a cover for it – and treated it with the care you would give a ticking time-bomb.

Fast forward two years, and this is the conversation we had in our house this morning.

Have you seen little man’s iPhone?

No. Did you actually just utter those words? This is ridiculous. We are ridiculous. A 3-year-old can’t have an iPhone.

Maybe I would feel better about this if I called the phone “mine.” He still only gets to play with it for a few small blocks of time in the day – and now I don’t have to worry about him breaking my phone or tweeting Angry Birds videos. Even though it’s old, used, and would probably never be used again by anyone in my family if it wasn’t given to my son, it still feels weird to me. It makes me question some basic things about my parenting.

Am I going to be the mom that always gives in? Am I going to be the mom who spoils her children? That’s it – this is the last day we’re going to refer to that thing as “his phone.” Even if it changes nothing about the way he uses it – it just makes me feel better.

Humor me.

(photo: Tumblr)

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  • Véronique Houde

    My mom gave my daughter her old 3G too, but I have yet to do anything with it. Granted, my daughter is a year old. BUT my sister gave her daughter an iPhone basically at birth ;). So you’re not that bad!!

  • Véronique Houde

    My mom gave my daughter her old 3G too, but I have yet to do anything with it. Granted, my daughter is a year old. BUT my sister gave her daughter an iPhone basically at birth ;). So you’re not that bad!!

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      You always make me feel better, Veronique!

    • Aimee Beff

      Haha, I *am* 110% that bad! We just got new phones and kept our old 3G’s for the express purpose of giving them to our soon-to-arrive twins once they are old enough to want to play with mommy and daddy’s phones when mommy and daddy are trying to send work emails. I imagine that cast-off phones won’t be as much fun or interesting as “whatever mom and dad are doing right now” but anything that will cut back on the number of random-text-and-strings-of-semicolons emails that I send to my boss.

      Which reminds me, I should probably comb through my music library and delete some songs before the kids are old enough to ask me what “Silverfuck” means.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    My cousin bought her 2-year-old a brand new iPad a couple years ago. It’s currently got pages and pages of games. Compare your 3-year-old with a used iPhone and it ain’t so bad, is it?

    • CrazyFor Kate

      Virtually all of my kindergartners have their own ipads at home, and my school is starting to implement them in lessons – first the older kids, but all ages by next year. The times, they are a changin’.

    • Mac Guy3135

      Virtually all preschoolers I know have their own tablet and II think some schools are making it a must

  • Blueathena623

    When I started staying home I had my cellphone turned off (no service at home, so why waste the money?). It had a white noise app, so it just became the official white noise machine. Sometimes I look at and really think about how this incredibly complex piece of technology — better than what put us on the moon, probably has metals and materials from all over the world — now just plays ocean sounds to help my kid sleep better. How much more first world can you get?

  • Blueathena623

    When I started staying home I had my cellphone turned off (no service at home, so why waste the money?). It had a white noise app, so it just became the official white noise machine. Sometimes I look at and really think about how this incredibly complex piece of technology — better than what put us on the moon, probably has metals and materials from all over the world — now just plays ocean sounds to help my kid sleep better. How much more first world can you get?

  • quinn

    I think I would feel exactly like you feel about it…it would be great to be able to let my 4 yr old have her own gadget so I don’t have to worry about her breaking mine, but something about it wouldn’t sit right with me, although I would have a hard time putting my finger on what that was. Either way, you sound like an awesome mom, so don’t think about it too much.

    • Rachel Sea

      I think it’s because there is no comparable experience for our generations. There is not a single thing my parents owned that cost $400, that broke easily, that would have had anything about it that was geared for me. There is a whole world of technology that did not exist when we were kids, that isn’t a part of “normal” parenting, so we have to make up the rules as we go along.

  • Andrea

    Ok, first let me say I did have a lot of your same concerns. But the thing is, it’s a different world now. Back in my grandparents age, they played marbles and homemade toys. Admit it, if someone would have given you a set of marbles for your 6th birthday, you would have thought it totally lame.
    Kids today sorta feel the same way about old fashioned toys and games. They think they are lame. It just doesn’t hold their attention. And at first, I thought, well tough shit, why are they such spoiled little assholes. And then I imagined how I felt about my toys versus the toys my grandma had at her house that were the old toys my parents played with.
    Kids change. We are different than our parents and we played with different things. Our kids are different than we were and play with different things. To them, it is a toy. Just like our old tamagotchis probably looked insanely spoiled to our parents.

    Besides, it’s not really a phone. It’s just an electronic device. He can play games, watch videos. No big deal.

  • Andrea

    Ok, first let me say I did have a lot of your same concerns. But the thing is, it’s a different world now. Back in my grandparents age, they played marbles and homemade toys. Admit it, if someone would have given you a set of marbles for your 6th birthday, you would have thought it totally lame.
    Kids today sorta feel the same way about old fashioned toys and games. They think they are lame. It just doesn’t hold their attention. And at first, I thought, well tough shit, why are they such spoiled little assholes. And then I imagined how I felt about my toys versus the toys my grandma had at her house that were the old toys my parents played with.
    Kids change. We are different than our parents and we played with different things. Our kids are different than we were and play with different things. To them, it is a toy. Just like our old tamagotchis probably looked insanely spoiled to our parents.

    Besides, it’s not really a phone. It’s just an electronic device. He can play games, watch videos. No big deal.

  • Andrea

    Ok, first let me say I did have a lot of your same concerns. But the thing is, it’s a different world now. Back in my grandparents age, they played marbles and homemade toys. Admit it, if someone would have given you a set of marbles for your 6th birthday, you would have thought it totally lame.
    Kids today sorta feel the same way about old fashioned toys and games. They think they are lame. It just doesn’t hold their attention. And at first, I thought, well tough shit, why are they such spoiled little assholes. And then I imagined how I felt about my toys versus the toys my grandma had at her house that were the old toys my parents played with.
    Kids change. We are different than our parents and we played with different things. Our kids are different than we were and play with different things. To them, it is a toy. Just like our old tamagotchis probably looked insanely spoiled to our parents.

    Besides, it’s not really a phone. It’s just an electronic device. He can play games, watch videos. No big deal.

    • Véronique Houde

      I sooooo disagree with you! I played marbles all day long with my friends outside as a kid, and left my nintendo sitting in my basement. Kids don’t find traditional toys lame – they do only if we give them too many electronic toys too early on without limits. Kids’ biology hasn’t changed from our grandparents to us, and they still love to play and move around.

    • ElleJai

      I loved marbles too! I used to get them off my cousin, and I still own my favourite one.

    • ElleJai

      I loved marbles too! I used to get them off my cousin, and I still own my favourite one.

    • Helen Hyde

      I used to play with my grandmas tiddly winks! Loved them. (Ps I hope that is not lost in translation… They were like buttons…)

    • Helen Hyde

      I used to play with my grandmas tiddly winks! Loved them. (Ps I hope that is not lost in translation… They were like buttons…)

    • Rachel Sea

      I agree with both of you. I loved playing marbles with my dad, but the kids at school thought they were dumb. Kids generally like a measure of conformity, which means toys which are out of fashion are lame, even if they are fun.

    • ranchmom

      The toys/media available to kids has changed. The physiology of brain development, and the psychological stages that we all need to go through to become thinking, empathetic, responsible adults has not. I think we are experimenting with our kids futures by giving them the easy pleasure of gadgetry and passive learning, rather than the old fashioned kind of hands on personal interactions.

    • EX

      I’m not THAT old (under 40) and I loved marbles when I was a kid. We had one of those sets of wood blocks with holes in them and tracks where you could build a big track to run them through. I loved that. I don’t agree that kids inherently find old toys lame. I think it depends on what they’re exposed to.

    • K.

      Well, for one, I don’t think that people here are “anti-technology” or that we don’t believe in allowing kids to use technology for play. I do think that a lot of parents have concerns regarding the ways in which technology fundamentally changes lifestyle (such as not being active, not being social, attention-span issues), which lends itself to wishing to limit it, that’s all.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think that there’s necessarily a huge gap between toys of several generations ago and toys today–yes, we have new technology and all kinds of new possibilities that come with it, but basics–like blocks, stuffed animals, dolls, chalk-and-sidewalk, balls, bubbles, finger paint, books–these are timeless for a reason. And even today, my friend’s 8-year-old loves the iPad; she also loves reading (yes, a REAL BOOK!) to her American Girl doll.

  • RevBex

    When we decided to get my 10 year old a Nook Slate for her birthday, my parents wanted to give our 7 year old, whose birthday is in the same month, one of their old phones, for the same reasons as your sister. We call it her “mini-tablet” and it’s just for games and a few videos (Dr. Who, mainly). She loves it! I had a lot of reservations about her having a “phone”, but she takes care of it, only uses it when we say, and it’s turning into a great way to teach her responsibility. If she doesn’t charge it, she doesn’t get to use our car charger when our phones need it; if she leaves it somewhere, it’s gone, etc. It is the smallest way like a pet, with no animal cruelty to worry about, because 7 year olds are still a little forgetful.

  • Ptownsteveschick

    I felt that way when my sister gave my 2yr old her portable dvd player for the car. But then I got to ride in the car alone with her without her yelling at me for 2 hours and I got over it.

  • Ptownsteveschick

    I felt that way when my sister gave my 2yr old her portable dvd player for the car. But then I got to ride in the car alone with her without her yelling at me for 2 hours and I got over it.

  • ElleJai

    My cousin bought me an ipod for the express purpose of me wanting to let my one year old play with it. I’m definitely that bad!

    Usually he prefers my Samsung screen saver though…

  • ElleJai

    My cousin bought me an ipod for the express purpose of me wanting to let my one year old play with it. I’m definitely that bad!

    Usually he prefers my Samsung screen saver though…

  • ranchmom

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics: The AAP advocates for better and more research about how media affects youth. Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. A recent study shows that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media. About 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, and nearly all teenagers use text messaging. – See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Managing-Media-We-Need-a-Plan.aspx#sthash.LAqO3Sm5.dpuf.

    We all need to think very very carefully about what screen time is doing to/for our children.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      She did mention that the kid only gets it in small blocks of time. Pretty sure that’s a far cry from 8 hours a day.

  • Alicia Kiner

    So it’s basically an ipod. He can’t make phone calls. Leaps tee makes handheld electronic game systems for toddlers… What’s the difference? Now, if your sister bought him a brand new iPhone complete with data plan and cell service, that would be an entirely different conversation

  • Alicia Kiner

    So it’s basically an ipod. He can’t make phone calls. Leaps tee makes handheld electronic game systems for toddlers… What’s the difference? Now, if your sister bought him a brand new iPhone complete with data plan and cell service, that would be an entirely different conversation

  • CrushLily

    My 2.5 year old shows only marginal interest in my smartphone. Maybe because its a Samsung and not an iPhone?! He holds it to his ear so he seems to know its a phone, he scrolls through pictures on it occasionally and he understands its where his favourite stories come from when he is on a long car trip/unexpectedly waiting for something/someone in a confined space, but he remains remarkably uncurious about it. But then he IS weird.

    • AugustW

      As far as my toddler is concerned, my phone is just a repository for photos of her.

  • C.J.

    You could use it for a great lesson for your son. My girls were 4 and 7 when Santa brought them ipods. We told them that electronics were very expensive and they had to take very good care of them. We would not buy them new ones if they lost or broke them. They are 8 and 11 now and still have the same ipods. They take very good care of all their electronics.

  • C.J.

    You could use it for a great lesson for your son. My girls were 4 and 7 when Santa brought them ipods. We told them that electronics were very expensive and they had to take very good care of them. We would not buy them new ones if they lost or broke them. They are 8 and 11 now and still have the same ipods. They take very good care of all their electronics.

  • Mariah Grove

    Over my dead body will my daughter be given an iPhone whether she’s 3 or 13. And your sole reason for giving it to him was so he would leave your phone alone? How about telling the child “no”? A 3 year old should be playing and interacting with his surroundings, not glued to YouTube. Lazy parenting, in my opinion.

    • ranchmom

      I agree. Our 7 and 9 year olds read books, ride horses, help with chores, play soccer and football in the yard and on teams, build things with Legos, cook and are very happy children. They never use the internet (at home–diatribe on computers in schools to come later) or an iThingy. Grownups from teachers to ministers to checkout people in the grocery store are always telling me how polite, friendly and engaged they are. Ceding the parenting of your children to a gadget is a cop out.

    • Rachel Sea

      70 years ago the same terrible things were said about trade paperbacks and comics. Just because some people use a thing poorly, does not mean that there is anything wrong with the thing. Allowing you child to play a game or watch a show on a small screen is no worse than letting them watch something on a tv or movie screen. It’s all about moderation.

      I have friends whose kids are allowed measured amounts of screen time and people say the same nice things about their kids as people say about yours.

    • Rachel Sea

      70 years ago the same terrible things were said about trade paperbacks and comics. Just because some people use a thing poorly, does not mean that there is anything wrong with the thing. Allowing you child to play a game or watch a show on a small screen is no worse than letting them watch something on a tv or movie screen. It’s all about moderation.

      I have friends whose kids are allowed measured amounts of screen time and people say the same nice things about their kids as people say about yours.

    • Rachel Sea

      70 years ago the same terrible things were said about trade paperbacks and comics. Just because some people use a thing poorly, does not mean that there is anything wrong with the thing. Allowing you child to play a game or watch a show on a small screen is no worse than letting them watch something on a tv or movie screen. It’s all about moderation.

      I have friends whose kids are allowed measured amounts of screen time and people say the same nice things about their kids as people say about yours.

    • EX

      While I don’t think I’ll be giving my kid an iphone of her own at age 3 I do allow her to use mine on occasion. These occasions are times when I cannot be interacting with her and she can’t really be interacting with her environment (on a long drive for example – and before you suggest that she could look out the window, when strapped into her car seat, she can barely see out). Another example is when I’m making dinner – yes, sometimes I have her help me cook but at other times it’s too dangerous or she’s not in the mood (she’s a toddler after all). At these times the alternative to letting her play with it is having her crying in the car seat or at my feet clinging to my leg. She’s not exactly missing out if we have a way to avoid that. She still gets plenty of time playing and interacting with her surroundings. She loves to play with her toys, color and paint, read books and go outside. Allowing your child some access to media does not mean you’re a lazy parent and does not mean you don’t provide your child with lots of other experiences. Obviously there are people who don’t monitor their child’s screen time and that’s a problem but I wish you wouldn’t paint with such broad strokes. Oh and I tell my child “no” plenty, thank you.

  • K.

    Maria, there was a story on NPR–months and months ago, so I can’t remember who it was or what program–but a reporter did an experiment with her 4-year-old and allowed him to have the iPad whenever he wanted (within reason–not when he was supposed to be doing other things, like eating, and not in place of say, story time). She reported that just like a 4 year-old with any other toy, he was obsessed with it for a week or two and then she fished it out of his toy box containing a whole lot of other ‘one-hit-wonders’

    I am SO NOT looking forward to dealing with this.

    I do think that we have to teach children media literacy and how to handle the influx of information and entertainment, as well as the expectation of convenience and immediacy. I think that my way of handling the technology stuff in the early years might be very similar to what they recommend about teaching your toddler healthy eating habits, which is that while you decide WHAT and WHEN to feed your child, your child gets to decide HOW MUCH. If they want seconds, they get it, if they push their plate away, then they’ll eat at the next scheduled meal/snack. So, in terms of technology, I guess our strategy will be to say that they can play THOSE programs (the ‘what’) at THESE times (the ‘when’). The kid gets to decide what s/he wants to do with technology within those parameters. And after a set amount of time, it’s “go out and play.”

    That and the 3rd rule: all technology belongs to US, the parents, until you move out of the house. While you live here, it’s pretty much ‘on loan,’ and I don’t care whether you saved up and bought your own iPad or whatever. If it’s media technology and requires electricity and/or Internet, then it’s ours until you’re off in college. Sorry.

  • Alex Lee

    Even though there is no cell or data plan for this phone, you should still activate the Parental controls on it. Limit or remove in-app purchasing, set a volume limit, ensure the pre-existing iTunes account information is no longer in the phone, set content restrictions, etc.

    My household is actually tech-central, somewhat unavoidable with my line of work. I know anecdotal “evidence” isn’t all that helpful, but my two kids love their tablets and laptops and are excelling in school. We do the responsible parental thing and moderate their screen time appropriately and based on the last midterm report cards, I think we’ve found a good balance with work and play.

    I had some idea of what I was getting into when I let my daughter swipe across an iPad for the first time in her life – which is why I learned how to repair them myself…

    There’s no denying the gadgets are tools of the future. And too much of anything can be bad. But being the good parent means accepting this responsibility of technology – it can do wonders, but it can also distract like nobody’s business.

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  • Alexandria

    No a three year old does NOT need an iPhone. Some parents need to grow a set of balls, you are the parent. any child under 2 needs NO screen time even in this digital age. No we are not Quaker! Stimulate your child’s physical & intellectual needs with physical & intellectual games, music, build their EQ(emotional IQ) so they are less likely to bully, create independent CRITICAL thinkers so your children can tell the difference between genetically modified food & organic, also that advertising is deceptive they should decide for themselves what is true. Hope this has enlightened at least one parent to produce a generation of critical thinkers & healthy adults.

  • Alexandria

    Also cudos to Marian Grove for being a responsible parent. Other option for digital learning exist that emit less radiation in terms of EMFs. When children are older they can use an Innotab 3s or Vinci learning tablets geared toward positive educational games. To the parent who loved the DVD player b/c it kept their kid quiet in the car…try singing, playing eye spy or OMG taking to your child. I also need a break but not at the expens of my child, I enjoy even the whining because they grow in the blink of an eye.

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