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Tech Gadgets for Kids: When is a Child too Young for a Cell Phone, Digital Camera, and iPod?

boy with toy cell phoneI dislike electronic toys for children, such as so-called “educational” toys made by LeapFrog.  As I have stated before, I think that children learn more from playing with wooden blocks than any battery operated gizmo can teach them, but what about other tech devices, such as iPods and digital cameras?  At what is it appropriate for a child have these “grown up” toys?

Ever since my daughter could hold our camera, we have shared it with her. Last year, her grandmother decided to buy her a digital camera for her birthday.  At first, we looked at several digital cameras designed for children; however, in the end, we decided to buy her a real camera that would last her many years. The quality of children’s digital cameras is poor, and we have made a commitment to giving gifts that last our children as many years as possible.  As an eco mom, I won’t buy junky toy emulations of technology designed for children that will only break and end up in a landfill.  As an artist and a photographer, I felt a good camera would help my young child develop her artistic expression.  Her compositions amaze me, and her photographs help me view the world through her “lens”.  I can see what is important or interesting to her by what she photographs.

For two years now, my daughter has been asking for an iPod. Even though we live in a very small community, and she only goes to school with seven other children in a one room schoolhouse, iPods are the hottest things around.  For two years I have stalled, not only because of the expense, but because of the risk of hearing loss associated with ear buds and headphones.  Then I realized, I got my first stereo in second grade for my Catholic first communion.  It was a gem of an eight-track, and my first tapes were Adam Ant’s “Strip”, John and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy”, and John Denver’s “Greatest Hits”.  Music has always been a big part of my life, as you can tell from my first eclectic choices, and my daughter has already formed her own opinions about music (her favorite song is off Music for a Green Planet). Since Eco Dad doesn’t use his iPod, we decided to let her have it and gave her a docking speaker to play it in her room. This has been a GODSEND, as her little brother and her spend hours in her room listening to music and playing now (with blocks!).

We don’t have cell phone coverage in our area, and given the safety concerns regarding cell phone useage, I doubt I would let my seven-year-old daughter have her own phone. At some point, I can see it would be convenient to be able to reach her at anytime when she is older and away from home, but at what age is this appropriate?  I wouldn’t want to prematurely encourage the disconnect from family that happens when the social world takes over for teenagers by giving my child a cell phone.

Mark Randall, vice president of the toy and baby store at Amazon.com, explains why kids want tech devices, “Children want to emulate their parents, whether they are on the phone, using a digital camera or on their computers and online.”  My ipod and camera are a big part of my life, as is my laptop, so it only make sense my daughter would want to share these devices.  My daughter hasn’t asked for her own laptop yet, but I suppose that is next.  I don’t want tech devices to take my children’s childhood away prematurely, so I ask our readers: What age do you think is appropriate for a child to enter the world of technology?

Image:  blonboy on Flickr under a Creative Commons License


  1. Natalie says:

    We LOVE LOVE our Ipod for audio books. While I’m not big on buying e-books, many libraries now let you take out a book on CD and burn it/rip to your computer for use on an Ipod. With our docking station, I’ve been listening to several books on CD. I can listen to a book when I don’t have the time to be sitting down reading it. This also means I can be “reading” two books at once. One book curled up in bed at night and one in my car, kitchen, etc.

    Also, when friends have resorted to DVD players in the car, we have resorted to kids books and kids music (our used car came w/a Ipod stereo adapter). We don’t leave home w/o it! We must thank grandma and grandpa for mailing us books on CD for the girls, after which we burned onto Itunes.

    Also, many libraries now have online e-libraries. However, Apple products are not compatible (of course – they wouldn’t make a profit). For me, that’s a great option, especially as an American living in Portugal. English libraries and/or English used book stores are hard to find. I would love this option and will investigate it further at the library I was a member of my whole life (until I married a solider, that is). Oh, how I would love to get online and download a best seller onto a MP3 player – for free (you still have to check it out and check it back in – though, I need to figure out how that works)!!

    I am going to take an old digital camera and give it to my 3.5-year-old, eventually. I’m trying to find some sort of case that will hold it, while still allowing her to take pictures, in the event she drops it…

  2. Oh, I forgot about audiobooks. We have several of these on our iPod, and it is great for the car. A specialist in sensory issues once told me that watching dvds in the car is bad for children. Our eyes are not meant to fixed so pointedly while zooming along.

  3. My kids are very tech savvy. We take apart computers, build robots, and study technical specs. Jack started googling at age 3. Now he’s 7, and likes to draw schematics for wild pretend inventions he makes from combining his toys with old electronics. I always pick up the latest issue of MAKE magazine too,which has neat mechanical projects you can make from scrap parts.

    Now, I’m a mommy who grew up playing Nintendo, and my geeky dad got an Apple II for my bedroom before most people we knew even owned a computer. Technology is really a passion of mine, and I’m happy that my children share this interest.

  4. Jonathan Bowser says:

    Hi. I am a 9 year old boy and I want to make a comment. Well, building blocks can teach kids how to build and construction and things like that, but computers and electronic games can teach people everything else. I think that you’re just getting annoyed about the noise that the toys might make. Shouldn’t there be a volume switch there somewhere? I hope that you change your mind because electronic, they pretty much run everything at this time. Have a nice day!



  5. we don’t have any kids, but is this really an issue? are there so many tech toys for kids now?

    when we were kids we played with blocks and lincoln logs, and matchbox cars. we had basketballs, and tools – hammers, saws, stuff like that.

    i don’t think electronic stuff would have fit in our games.

    it didn’t stunt me tech-wise – i write enterprise software for a living, and still ‘play’ by skating, shooting hoops, and bike riding.


  6. Yes, aApe, there are a ton of tech toys now aimed at the littlest ones. Go into a toy store and look around at them all! The New York Times wrote about it last fall:
    “Technology has been slowly permeating the toy business for a number of years, but the trend has been accelerating. On Wednesday, six of the nine best-selling toys for 5- to 7-year-olds on Amazon.com were tech gadgets. For all of 2006, three of the top nine toys for that age group were tech-related.

    The trend concerns pediatricians and educators, who say excessive screen time stifles the imagination. But more traditional toys — ones without computer monitors, U.S.B. cables and memory cards — are seen by many children as obsolete.”

  7. As a parent and educator I understand the irritation by tech toys, however, I also see thier value. We have evolved into a very technological savvy world, in which our children must know how to manipulate numerous electronic tools or struggle to be successful. I too played with blocks, and rode my bike, and I too turned out just fine, but it was a very different world back then. It was a world in which I would go play outside with my friends and didn’t have to check in with mom and the only rule was that I had to be home when the street lights came on. It was a world where people knew thier neighbors…and talked to them. We had to mail letters, and it took days for the recipient to recieve it. Today everything moves at a much quicker pace and we must prepare our children. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like video games or excessive television, but I think if parents don’t use technology as a babysitter but as an asset and limit the amount used, it can actually be very useful and beneficial.
    Don’t be fooled, the problem is not the technology avaiable, it’s the parents who are not monitoring thier kids.

  8. Both my kids have ipods because guess who gets to load (preapprove) the content? Yep, me! We have ihomes in their rooms and their alarm clocks won’t have us waking up to hearing Danny Bonaduce with his morning radio talk show.

    It was a practical matter here.

    FYI my eldest uses her ipod as a flashlight to read books under her covers at night. So much for hi-tech.

  9. I’m one of those rotten parents that will not allow her children to own video games. We do watch television occasionally, and I let them play on the computer since it’s obviously a life skill that they will need. BUT – cell phones, Wiis, X-boxes, Nintendos, and crappy, plastic, electronic “learning” games are not in my house. The sad thing that most parents still don’t realize is that their kiddos will have more fun with blocks or a dress up box, or an EMPTY box for that matter than a stilly electronic learning toy that will be cast aside after a couple of days. They irritate me too, because they are not environmentally friendly in the least.

  10. I have a 5 year old boy and he acquired my older iPod nano. One thing to note for those worried about hearing damage, the iPods now have a volume limit you can set and password protect. This way you can lower the max volume output through headphones. One other word of advice, buy the full foam headphones. The wrap around ones that cover the whole ear. Ear buds are worse for hearing loss.

    As for cameras, we let our 5 year old use our digital camera and you know, some of his pics are better than ours. We are of the thought process that if you let them use it and teach them how to care for them properly they will respect it much more than something that is “off limits” to them.

    We’ve also got an iMac that we have a user account for our son set up with 1 hour a day time limit. It seems to keep him occupied and he doesn’t complain about the time too much.

  11. Hi Jennifer!

    That is actually my young nephew in the photo. Given the nature of your article – it seems the perfect image – LOL!!

    I dont know why, but i love that expression on his face – you can tell he is so frustrated. Anyway, glad you could use the image – Im thrilled to see it accompany an article like this!

  12. which are the best sites for real tech gadgets and spy gear?

  13. A child is too young for a phone if he’s still an infant of course!


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