Pda Play

Software developers are creating phone apps directed at kids way too young to know their phone numbers (or what a phone number is), We pondered the potential pros and cons with help from Michael Rich, M.D., director of the Center on Media and Child Health, at Children's Hospital Boston.

PRO: "If you need your kid to sit quietly for a while, giving him your phone will work," says Dr. Rich. CON: Good luck getting it back. "If an important call comes in," says Dr. Rich, "that's not a wrestling match you're going to win."

PRO: An app that, say, makes animal noises, is just as good for its purpose as a classic toy like See 'n Say. "Both connect an image with the concept of a living organism and the sound It makes," explains Dr. Rich, "But an iPhone is a lot easier to carry around in your pocket." CON: "Kids can get hooked into virtual-world play at a very early age," warns Dr. Rich. That can mean they may not be as interested in— or skilled at—imaginative real-world play later on,

PRO: Apps have the potential to be good for developing minds. "Research shows that most factual stuff we learn during the preschool period is not retained, but what is important is learning how to team, how to arrive at answers and figure things out," says Dr. Rich, "A well-designed app can support that very much." CON: "Any good marketer knows that all he needs to do to sell something to a parent is to put the word 'educational' on it," says Dr. Rich. Just be realistic about what you expect from your toddler's phone-play time.

PRO: Apps are cheap, often a buck or two. Some are free. CON: "We're talking about two- and three-year-olds," says Dr. Rich. "And you're handing over a machine with all your personal data, your connection to the world," In other words: If you like it, then you better put a lock on it. —Christopher Healy

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