Always Connected

April 14th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

With toddler Internet usage on the rise, should parents be concerned?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Before she turned two, my daughter Emily was already adept at turning on my iPhone, scrolling the safety bar across, and finding her two favorite apps: CatPaint, a bucolic forest scene onto which you can overlay a variety of screeching cats (simultaneously horrifying, funny, and unstoppable); and Peekaboo Barn, a red barn that shivers and shakes until you “free” whatever bleating, clucking or mooing animal your child needs to know lives on a farm.

I relate this not to alert you that I am yet another competitive mother with whom you should never arrange a play date, but to tell you that I am terrified by what tiny digits can do these days. I am fairly sure that at that age, I was still fascinated by the way Velcro could fasten quilted books. I know it’s been said before, but kids are just smarter now.

This is why I am not surprised by the results of a new survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit affiliated with Sesame Workshop, which revealed that roughly four out of five kids age 5 and younger use the Internet at least once a week. The report, which analyzes data from seven recent studies, asserts many kids are already multitasking with several forms of media. (Now to betray my child’s brilliance: “multitasking” in this instance likely means something other than “answering” every handheld appliance available with a sweet “hello?”- including calculators, remote controls and a Clarisonic face brush.)

According to Time magazine’s Techland blog, television probably explains the increased Internet usage, as one study showed that 60 percent of children under the age of 3 often watched video online. Yet, a Mashable report acknowledges that the Cooney Center’s report doesn’t attempt to engage the debate over whether all this screen time is good for children. “Instead, it preaches balance.” Dr. Lewis Bernstein, executive president at Sesame Workshop, said. “My mother used to say that too much of anything isn’t good for you, whether it be eating only protein, shooting hoops all day or ‘always being connected’ to the digital world.” And the good news for book-loving moms like myself is that even with all the new-media use, kids are still spending the same amount of time reading books. 

So far, I’m not alarmed by my child’s fascination with technology; I’m around to monitor it, I’ve learned the sound an ocelot makes (thanks to Peekabo Barn) and Emily has even shown me a few useful iPhone functions. But are you bugged by the “always connected” phenomenon?