The other day, my 5-year-old said “Papi, so I was thinking. Maybe I could have my own iPad.” I stopped myself short of laughing in his face.
My response was “tienes dinero para comprar un iPad?” (Do you have money to buy an iPad?) Of course, he said yes, thinking that the $5 in coins he has saved up in his Spider-Man can is sufficient to purchase a $300-$400 piece of shiny, electronic crack. When I told him that he didn’t have enough money and he didn’t need his own iPad, he was disappointed but not too upset. But I know that conversation is far from over. He will ask that question again soon. And he’ll probably keep asking until he gets one. I’m sure it’s just the beginning of 10 to 12 more years of “can I have ______ (insert over-priced item that he can’t afford and I don’t want to buy)?”
But that’s okay because I’m a teacher. I get paid to tell kids they can’t have it their way. My wife has an iPad, and I have an Android tablet. I set up a restricted user account for my son and limited his apps to some games and Google Play Movies & TV, so he can watch shows like Wallykazam, LEGO Ninjago, and Miles from Tomorrowland. I blocked his access to YouTube Kids because, while the timer is good, I haven’t found a way to filter or block certain videos like that super-whiny Caillou. Our son also uses my wife’s iPad, but he primarily uses it to try to binge watch YouTube Kids–until we catch him and set the timer.
So, my son won’t be getting his own iPad anytime soon. There are plenty of parents who do provide their little ones with their own devices, and there’s nothing wrong with that if done responsibly–we just aren’t those parents. We could easily buy our kid his own tablet and still monitor and limit his use, but he’s only 5 and he already has too many toys that he doesn’t take care of. Also, I’m a little bit old school, and a tablet is a big deal for a little kid.
Or maybe I mistakenly believe waiting to get him his own tablet will somehow make him less spoiled and build character. Or maybe I’m trying to recreate experiences similar to the ones I had as a kid. When other kids were already playing Tecmo Bowl and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on Nintendo (R.I.P. Satoru Iwata), I was playing Pole Position and One on One: Dr. J . vs Larry Bird on my Atari 7800–and I loved and appreciated it. Regardless of the deeper reasons, what I told my son is that a tablet is an expensive device that he doesn’t need, and that’s that–for now.
If you’re not as old school or uptight as me, there are a plethora of tablet options available. There are a number of relatively inexpensive Android tablets on the market, if your kid is ready for his or her first. If you’re dead set on selling one of your kidneys and buying an iPad, take a look at this Common Sense Media blog post about one parent’s experience with her kids’ first iPad. The author offers some good tips and things to think about before you actually put a tablet in your child’s hands.
Regardless of when our son gets his own tablet, my wife and I really need to be on point about helping him use one in a healthy and appropriate way. A recent New York Times article talks about the effects that screen addiction is having on children. It’s real, and I see it as a high school teacher. The habits and attitudes around digital media that our son develops now will affect and shape his attitudes and habits in the future. Common Sense Media is a great resource, and I usually refer to it whenever I have questions about appropriate apps, movies, or screen time in general. PBS Parents also has some pretty good information, including a good article on when to introduce a smartphone or tablet to your kids. Digital media is not just the future, it’s the present. And it’s our job as parents to help our kids interact with digital media responsibly.