Philly Parents’ Survey Shows Huge Percentage of Kids Under 5 Have Their Own Mobile Devices

Gone are the days of building blocks, it seems.

I worked at a restaurant throughout college, and the last year I worked there, this family started coming in with their kid — he was probably about two-years-old — and I was always shocked at how well-behaved he was throughout their non-rushed, margarita-filled, seemingly relaxed dinners. They had an iPad to thank for his good behavior.

Ever since then, I’ve wondered if I, for the sake of my own sanity, would get my nonexistent toddler an iPad. Because margaritas, and tacos, and mental health. And it looks like many parents in Philadelphia say yes. As the New York Times reports, a recent survey of 350 Philadelphia parents, done at Einstein Medical Center, found that three-quarters of the parents’ children had been given their own tablet, smartphone or iPod by age four. 

The survey was obviously small and not nationally representative, but Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, told the Times that he would guess kids’ exposure to mobile devices elsewhere is not all that different from what the survey showed.

So what are parents doing while their kids are playing on their smartphones? Well, 70 percent of them reported letting their kids play while they do housework and 65 percent reported letting their kids play on the devices as a means to placate them in public. (Hi, relaxed couple drinking margaritas.) A quarter of the parents said they left the devices with their kids at bedtime.

The experts the Times talked to were pretty split in terms of how exactly all this exposure to mobile devices at a young age is impacting children. Since it’s such a new trend, more research needs to be done before we have a solid idea. But one pediatrician they talked to, Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis of University of Washington, did say (kind of hilariously) “Children need laps more than apps,” and the experts did seem to agree that too much unsupervised time spent alone, if that’s how the kids are using the devices, can’t be good.

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