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Smartphones and Toddlers

by Dr. Gregory Gordon

Dr. Gregory Gordon

Dr. Gregory Gordon

Last week, my wife began her morning with the dreaded iPhone search, certain she had used it and left it in our kitchen. After searching the house for over an hour, she decided to ask our tech-addicted 4-year-old. Sure enough – he had used it and knew exactly where it was. He led my wife to our neighbor’s yard, where her new iPhone had spent the night.

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Fortunately, the phone still works great. And while I’m now a big fan of LifeProof cases, I am also hopeful that my wife will begin to use a secure, child proof passcode.

Many people know the uneasy feeling of a lost or misplaced smartphone. This common feeling forces us to recognize the important role these devices have in our lives.  Frankly, we are dependent on them.

It is now the norm to find both parents and children passing their time in my office waiting room on a smartphone or tablet PC. Often, children are shockingly “skilled” on these devices. It was this observation that led to our smartphone survey.

This survey was completed on the website by 110 parents of children up to five years old. The survey’s intent was to explore both childrens’ smartphone abilities and how these devices are used within the family. The results provide insight into the smartphone use of today’s children and parents.

What we learned about our tech-savvy children

Out of all our survey questions, the ability to “scroll through pictures on a smartphone” was acquired at the youngest age. According to our survey, an amazing 67 percent of 5- to 8-month-olds are able to scroll through pictures.

1 year olds
Children seem able to use a touch screen around 12 months old. In our survey, 85 percent of 12- to 16-month-olds can use a touch screen. One hundred percent of children older than 16 months reportedly have the ability to use a touch screen.

Seventy percent of 1-year-olds and 85 percent of children older than 12 months can “swipe to unlock”.

2 year olds
Most children were able to find and start smartphone videos around 2 years old.  In our survey, 57 percent of 2-year-olds and 83 percent of 3-year-olds can find and start videos. This is contrasted by only 29 percent of 21- to 24-month-olds who could perform this task.

Two year olds also master the individual devices’ names, like Blackberry or iPhone. Sixty-seven percent of 2-year-olds surveyed could say the device’s name verses only 42% of 21- to 24-month-olds.

3 year olds
Several smartphone tasks were mastered by our 3-year-olds. Sixty-three percent of 3-year-olds can adjust a smartphone’s volume verses only 24 percent of 2-year-olds. Seventy-one percent of 3-year-olds can take pictures on a smartphone verses only 33 percent of 2-year-olds.

Only 12 percent of respondents report their children knew how to purchase apps on their device.

What we learned about parents

Prior to their child reaching 8 months old, two-thirds of parents reported owning no apps for their child. After 9 months, 92 percent of parents reported owning at least one app for their child. One-third of parents (of children over 8 months) owned more than 10 apps, and 12 percent owned more than 20 apps for their child(ren).

Eighty-one percent of parents report using their smartphone to calm their child when upset.

Less than half of parents in our survey use passcode security.  Of those who use a passcode, only 15 percent of their children know the passcode.

Hopefully, my story will inspire a few parents to passcode protect or “child proof” their smartphones. I believe that my son took my wife’s iPhone because mine is passcode protected. I take heart in learning that 71 percent of survey respondents reported their child taking their device without asking.  I wonder what percentage of kids can remember where they left the device the next day.

Dr. Gregory Gordon grew up in Gainesville, Florida. He attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate and medical degrees. After he completed his pediatric residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he joined Pediatric Associates of Orlando. Dr. Gordon is the proud father of seven children. He is the Vice President of “The Gift of Swimming” (a local charity that provides swim lessons to Orlando’s needy children). In early 2010, encouraged by his patients, he started to share his pediatric and parenting experience.


  1. AV says:

    The lifeproof case would be helpful with our twins! Great article.

  2. AV says:

    It would be helpful to list some child-friendly apps that you use or recommend.

    • babyourself says:

      On page 21 of our current issue (you can view it online!) We have a few apps listed that were recommended by babyourself facebook fans! We would love to hear more of your favorites!

  3. Nichole Bowling says:

    My husband has a case-I am jealous!

  4. lila says:

    Both of my children (3yrs & 2yrs) are fully capable of working almost all functions of my iPhone….this case would be so great to have!!! 🙂 cool article!

  5. katrinay says:

    I have a 3 year old and a one year old. I would love to have a lifeproof case.

  6. Rose says:

    I would love a lifeproof case I know my kids are out to get my phone! 🙂

  7. Christie says:

    A waterproof case would be perfect for my lifestyle. My otterbox has not held up very well, despite the high price and hype. Looking forward to checking out Lifeproof!!

  8. Cassidy says:

    Im always so nervous about letting my phone get into my kds’ hands. (And I secretly believe that, if given the chance, my 3 y.o. Could indeed master my phone and show me things I didn’t know it could do!)

  9. Nickole Kaufman says:

    I was amazed to see how quickly my 13 month old learned how to swipe through pictures!

  10. Andrea says:

    Hi! Stumbled upon your site. Wanted to share this – my 27 month old actually learned her entire alphabet (she only misses like 4 letters) because of our ipad. She knows how to switch between apps, and how to take pictures, change the volume, and turn the phone off when she’s done. It’s been very helpful while trying to teach her.

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