Are iPads Good For Kids?

by Jason Toon

Wired co-founder and tech oracle Kevin Kelly posted three anecdotes the other day in which digital kids say the darnedest things. One was about a 5-year-old who saw a TV and wondered where the mouse was; another about an iPad-using toddler who tried to use pinch gestures on a printed photograph; and a third about an 8-year-old asking how people got on the Internet before there were computers. I've heard similar stories from friends about their kids' iPad-born misconceptions of how the world works.


Am I nuts, or are those stores more disturbing than cute - especially the one about the picture-pinching toddler? If this was a story about how a kid hit another kid with a hammer because cartoons made him think it wouldn't do any real damage, we'd all be horrified at the way TV had distorted his understanding of reality. It seems to me that these kids' understanding of reality is equally warped. But Kelly and most of his commenters seem blissfully unaware of any such issues. His grandiose closing paragraph merely smiles at the tots' wise insight that "if something is not interactive, with mouse or gestures, it is broken" before concluding with some techno-schmaltz about how "the internet is not about computers or devices; it is something mythic, something much larger; it is about humanity."

Remember, you and I came to the iPad era grounded in at least a couple of decades of interaction with our physical environments. What happens to the human mind when, during the most crucial period in its cognitive and motor development, it encounters technologies like the iPad? We have no idea. I hate to pee in the virtual punchbowl, but it seems wise to at least consider the possibilities now. iPad-type devices are still only used by a relatively tiny number of people. If introducing children to iPads at an early age can harm their development, that's a lesson we'd hate to learn after the devices have become as ubiquitous as TV.

Maybe I'm being paranoid here, or underestimating kids' ability to learn distinctions between virtual and physical worlds. I'm no kind of expert on any of these subjects. But I can't help but feel a twinge of unease at the anecdotes that transport Kelly into such ecstasies of virtual optimism. What about you? Do, or will, your kids have iPads in their cribs? Or would you rather they learned how to work with the real world first before they toddle into the virtual one?

Photo by Flickr user oxtopus. Used under a Creative Commons License.