Toddlers don’t want Barney and Elmo. They want your iPhone


Five-year-old Fritz Veltman is the proud owner of dad Ruard’s hand-me-down iPhone.

Chris Edwards

It sounds gross. A giant bug gets squashed on the screen and a disgusting sound comes out. “The girls think it’s hilarious,” says Jordan Cigler of her two-year-old twins, who are addicted to Bug Squash, one of the top iPad apps for new moms, according to Cigler says Ramona and Clara still love playing dress-up, but it’s their father’s iPad that really makes their eyes light up. “It’s really engaging for them and it’s so easy,” says Cigler. “That’s what’s so mind blowing.”

The new toy du jour, it seems, is no longer a Barney DVD or dancing Elmo doll, but rather Mom and Dad’s iPad or iPhone. And Apple is capitalizing on the phenomenon by creating dozens of educational games for toddlers that parents can download on various devices. There’s Baby Flash Cards, for example, which teaches a child how to read and spell, and Pocket Zoo, which streams live video of animals at zoos around the world. “Fritz was probably two, when he started playing with my iPhone,” says Ruard Veltman, a Charlotte architect, of his son, who is now five and the proud owner of his dad’s hand-me-down. Nikki Alvarez grudgingly admits that she and her husband use his iPhone as a way to placate their three-year-old daughter, Luci. “For us it’s a matter of convenience. I do it so she’ll behave in a restaurant or on an airplane,” says Alvarez.

But some critics say that, similar to too much TV time, excessive playing on iPhones can affect a child’s social development. Dr. Patrice Petroff, chair/director of teacher education at Queens University, worries it could translate into stunted social skills. Not that iPhone use is necessarily a bad thing: “I think kids are interested in exploring, and that’s great,” she says. But Petroff adds this caveat: use of iPhones and the like are helpful in a child’s educational development “after [age] three, when they’re developmentally ready to engage in that process.”

Cigler says she’s careful to limit the twins’ iPad use, making sure there are more tea parties and mega blocks than bug squashing. “We don’t let them use it that often. If they had their choice, they would be on it all the time.”

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