Yes, She Has an iPad…

I felt guilty when I bought the iPad.  For about five minutes.  The truth is, I had mulled over this decision for so long that I had come to peace with it by the time I arrived at the store.  On one hand, I didn’t want the technology that could distract her, suction her into graphics and dings and animations to be hers and hers to own.  But on the other, I also felt that I could trust her with it.  I wanted to trust – and to test – that two years of spending eight hours plus a day outside would have given my daughter the foundation to know that there is more to life than just what’s on a screen.  Plus, selfishly, the truth was that I had a nine-hour transatlantic flight with two children on my own coming up the next week, and three more flights just like it later that month.  It was time for the big guns, and I knew I had to have every tool in my arsenal.  I’m idealistic enough to believe a screen shouldn’t be a baby-sitter, but also realistic enough to know the limits of my own sanity.  The reasons and thoughts we had behind letting our tot have an iPad and how we, as parents, still maintain control.My daughter has owned her own iPad for about a year now, and I have to confess, I don’t regret it.  I thought I might.  I was worried that this was the first step into the technology abyss, and we’d lose her forever.  But it’s not turned out to be the case.  Her iPad is her pride and joy, a special treat for special occasions, like flights and at the occasional weekend outing.  It fills in as a babysitter occasionally, but more often than not, it is actually her camera, her typewriter, and her “telephone”, a direct line to her father in Iraq.

Of course she has apps, and as much as I might have doubted it in the beginning, they do teach her something.  Knowing the letters of the alphabet? I’m pretty sure we can thank Originator’s Endless Alphabet for that.  Knowing what precipitation is?  That would be MarcoPolo’s Weather.  Knowing the four chambers of the heart? Cheers to TinyBop’s Human Body for that one.  And WildKratt’s Creature Math and Gazilli Math can keep her occupied through nearly an entire flight, when she’s not reading along to Winnie-the-Pooh that is.

That’s just it, there is, in fact, so much it can do – and much of it doesn’t have anything to do with the mindless games I assumed it would be for.  If you choose your apps wisely, you can really open up a child’s world to the things that they are already naturally interested in knowing and learning which complements what’s already in their world.  But as much as it can be a tool, it can also be a trap.

There are plenty of articles saying that tech leaders don’t give their kids technology (I don’t know if I believe that entirely), or that screen time makes kids moody or cranky (it does, I can see it when we’re over the limits).   And there are articles advocating that if children don’t use technology like iPads, they will be left behind.  They won’t.  I can assure you, after watching first hand, it take a child approximately five minutes to figure out how to use what they need, how they need it on these things.  It’s native and intuitive to them in a way that it will never be for me.  So while my own child has an iPad, I don’t support schools using them full-time as a teaching device.  It’s a complement for learning but not a substitute for one.  It works best when it’s one of many avenues for learning, not the main highway.

With the iPad, we’ve certainly had to put rules in place.  It doesn’t come out every day – it’s used more for long flights and trips, and the occasional rainy weekend.   The iPad lives in my room, never hers.  There are time limits, there are consequences for not listening, and all that good stuff we have to do as parents.  It doesn’t come on car trips or on day trips, unless she makes the case to use it as her camera.   Perhaps that has been the most surprising thing about the iPad is that in the end, while she loves the games and apps, it’s really the camera and the ability to document her memories that seems to really strike her.  It’s the opportunity to go to the camera roll and pull up a picture of an outing or time with family and say, “Remember this? I do!”. She loves to hear and tell stories; often a single photo is the prompt she needs to get her going for the next hour or two. This is her scrapbook, her modern “dear diary” of her transient, third culture life, pieced together from all of our adventures as a family, big and small.

As a parent, the most important lesson that I can teach her about technologies like an iPad though is not how to use it.  That she can teach me.  What she needs from me is to know when to stop using it…when to turn it off…when to put it down…when to pay attention to the life that is before you.  That’s not necessarily something you teach just once.  That’s something you reinforce time and time again.  Just as both I and the forest school reinforce the importance of time outside, of nature, and learning with all your senses…again and again and again, every day.  Because the things that we reinforce on a regular basis end up being lifetime skills – not a single lesson learned in passing, but an influence that sets the tone for a life well-lived.


  1. Nicole April 19, 2016

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who sees *some* benefit in screen time. I think it’s all about context and perspective. My boys don’t have iPads, but they regularly have my phone. Mostly, Tony watches science shows. He watches a few of the cartoons about science and animals, like Wild Kratts and Octonauts, but more and more he’s gotten into documentaries about science. I can’t believe how much we’ve learned together about animals. We’ve now decorated his room with posters about the different geologic periods, the periodic tables, and the animal kingdom.

    I think unfortunately, a lot of the screen time recommendations aren’t *really* for us. They’re for parents who don’t use the technology carefully. In DC, we see posters aimed at parents that they just need to talk to their children more. When Tony and I watch TV together, we talk about it. It’s almost like a book – we watch a little, talk about it, then talk about what happened later. Also, I use it so the two older boys don’t kill each other or accidentally smother the babies in love while I’m making them all dinner. As far as things parents get judged for, not feeding our kids health food is right up there with screen time. I feel like we’re both doing a GREAT job. You’re an AWESOME mom.

    • A Toddler in the Trees April 19, 2016

      Thanks so much for the kind words and so glad you enjoyed the post!

      I think that’s such a good point about talking with your children about what they watch or play on technology. It makes such a difference, you’re right. And also the point about the trade-off for screen time too, sometimes we just need that extra bit of time to get something done – like feeding another one, or bedtime for a little one, or dinner for every one…or even just a shower for me.

      And we love the Octonauts and Wild Kratts too!

  2. Triera Holley April 21, 2016

    Once again, this is a fantastic article Ania! You put into words precisely what I am going through or have gone through being a parent of two young children. I too “caved” when I was facing the long transatlantic trip to the US. We typically stop in the Midwest and then hop on over to California on our yearly trips so the iPad definitely saved our sanity. I purchased an ipad that is just for the children. So no adult applications the kids can accidentally hack. The internet and wifi is shut off, download and delete are disabled and only parent (ME) approved applications are accessible. Just like you, the iPad lives in my room and only comes out for special circumstances and that is completely understood by all interested parties.

    My bonus daughter has an ipad that is basically on from morning to night. Her school uses them, her SFO uses them, and her mother lets her use it on her personal time. I see firsthand how detrimental it is. So unfortunately, this has been a learning experience for me as I see how technology can be an unnecessary evil in our children’s lives. Just as with many things, WE are responsible for helping them to navigate through life: through right and wrong; through good and bad; and now through this technological laden world we live in. Thank you for the insightful article and the list of recommended apps I don’t have yet! ~Triera

  3. […] Yes, She Has an iPad… […]

  4. […]  you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that “yes, she has an iPad”.  I know not everyone agrees, but I have to say, for travel, this has been a game changer for us. […]


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