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Toddlers love selfies: Parenting in an iPhone age

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Every so often, Brandi Koskie finds dozens of photos of her 3-year-old daughter, Paisley, on her iPhone - but they aren't ones Koskie has taken.

"There'll be 90 pictures, sideways, of the corner of her eye, her eyebrow," said Koskie, who lives in Wichita, Kan. "She's just tapping her way right into my phone."

The hidden photos, all shot by Paisley, illustrate a phenomenon familiar to many parents in today's tech-savvy world: Toddlers love selfies. Observant entrepreneurs have caught on to these image-obsessed tots, marketing special apps that make taking photos super-easy for little fingers. You can even buy a pillow with a smartphone pocket so toddlers can take selfies during a diaper change.

But toddlers aren't the only ones taking photos nonstop. It's not unusual for doting parents to snap thousands of digital photos by the time their child is 2. Today's toddlers think nothing of finding their own biopic stored in a device barely bigger than a deck of cards.

While the barrage of images may keep distant grandparents happy, it's not yet clear how such a steady diet of self-affirming navel-gazing will affect members of the first truly "smartphone generation." Tot-centric snapshots can help build a healthy self-image and boost childhood memories when handled correctly, but shooting too many photos or videos and playing them back instantly for a demanding toddler could backfire, said Deborah Best, a professor of cognitive developmental psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The instant gratification that smartphones provide today's toddlers is "going to be hard to overcome," she said. "They like things immediately, and they like it short and quick. It's going to have an impact on kids' ability to wait for gratification. I can't see that it won't."

Julie Young, a Boston-based behavioral analyst, has seen that firsthand. She was recently helping her 3-year-old son record a short birthday video for his cousin on her iPhone when he stopped mid-sentence, lunged for her phone and shouted, "Mom, can I see it?"

"It's caught on the end of the video. He couldn't even wait to get the last sentence out," said Young, who has two sons. "The second the phone comes out, they stop, they look and they attack."

Now Young and her husband make their sons wait to look at a new video or photo until after dinner or until the other parent comes home, when everyone can watch together. They are careful to sit with their kids when looking at photos and have adopted the phrase "practice patience" as a family mantra.

It's natural for toddlers to be fascinated with their own image (think mirrors), and that interest plays an important developmental role as they develop a sense of self, child development experts say. Watching a video again and again can also help move events from short- to long-term memory, Best said.

But like any other fun thing kids get obsessed with, too much of it can be bad. Parents should make sure some photos show the child with other family members or friends. Parents can also sit with kids and narrate the photo or video as if it were a bedtime story.

"When we read a book to a child, it's the same thing we do with these photos," Best said.

Koskie has noticed that cuddling in bed on a lazy Saturday morning and swiping through digital photos is one of Paisley's favorite activities, and it seems to encourage her to ask about her place in the world. They look at photos and videos together on the iPad going back to Paisley's birth and "she'll start to ask questions: 'When I was a little tiny baby did I do this? Did I do that?'"

Paisley and the iPad are almost the same age: She was born two weeks after it came out. "That's a base-level, foundation technology for her," said Koskie, who handles marketing and content strategy for the email app EvoMail. "Someday it's all going to come back to bite me or she's going to come back and say, 'Wow, there's this whole encyclopedia of my whole life.' We're very plugged in, for better or for worse."

Still, parents who remember the days before iPhones wonder if their children will ever really understand the power of a cherished photograph. Jason Michael, a 32-year-old father of two in Denver, has taken so many photos of his 11-month-old son and 4-year-old stepdaughter (about 4,000) that his iPhone's memory has filled up three times. His stepdaughter takes plenty of selfies and loves to film herself singing favorite songs, then watches the videos again and again.

Michael worries that all that visual noise may keep them from treasuring that one special image that can evoke memories decades later. For him, it's a photo of himself as an 8-month-old baby lying on a pink blanket decorated with a rabbit eating a carrot. He remembers the photo so vividly that he asked his mother for the blanket when his son was born.

"I know everything about that photo. But there are 20,000 photos of my kids, so will it have that same emotional impact for them?" Michael said.

"It sounds a little cheesy, I guess, but you look at the photos and it's so rich and there's so much you remember about it," he said. "Now, all they have to do is swipe their hand to the left and it's gone and there's a new picture."

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aadelilah January 28 2014 at 11:05 AM

Yes. I think it is disgusting. You go into a restaurant and see a family of 6. Even the child has some sort of electronic device. Parents don't parent, they just shove a movie in front of their face. I see all of the time a family sitting around a table and nobody is talking. They are all looking down at a phone, iPad or something. I know that technology can and does enable us to do incredible things, but society apparently can not limit itself.

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Sheryll aadelilah January 28 2014 at 11:39 AM

I agree with you. It has happened in my family. I have an almost 14 year old daughter and an almost 3 year old son and I feel like we spend less time "together" now than we did when my daughter was little because of technology. I try to make an effort to limit time spent on these things, but it is very difficult when everyone else is doing it.

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RMS aadelilah January 28 2014 at 12:37 PM

Parenting has become a thing of the past. Maybe if today's "parents" exercised some control over their kids and limited their time with electronic devices, we would produce a generation of adults that can actually spell and write sentences, instead of socially backward twenty somethings. Maybe we would have a generation that cares about others instead of themselves.

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JAI January 28 2014 at 10:54 AM

Really? It's one thing to take pictures-or at some point allow a child to take pictures. But when the tantrums start up because they can't play with something mommy or daddy have, it's just ridiculous. I'm still waiting the day(s) where parents teach their kids that there is more to life than material objects. My kids don't have cellphones, computers-they use one for schooling and that's it, it's controlled by my husband and I. They don't have a Wii, or Nintendo or PS3-and when it gets bought, it will be mainly for me, not them. The world does not evolve around technology despite the common belief that it does-but it doesn't. The world does not stop just because a cellphone lost battery power. It just floors me when the power goes out for a more than 30 seconds and all these kids are completely freaking out. It's no big deal, really. Learn to live! Just because somebody makes a product, does NOT mean that we have to bombard our children with it.

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Blackbird Cycles January 28 2014 at 10:42 AM

Instant gratification. I remember when Photomat was equated with this (had to wait two days for photos). Everything is being reduced to instant almost meaningless bits and bytes. The kids and soon to be "adults" will not know a true and solid reality. The future holds little promise.

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wrenaroo January 28 2014 at 12:10 PM

Oh great. A new world order of Kardashian-like mentality with selfies telling your life story. And we wonder why kids are becoming more obese at a young age...when the only thing active is the mind (oh and the thumbs). Notice how Apple has not created a iToy just for kids that would withstand the activity of normal child? They prefer you allow your kids to play with an expensive piece of technology that is so touchy you need to buy a new one (or pay high cost repairs). Intelligence on their part...not so much on ours, huh?

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zewkeeper122 January 28 2014 at 12:16 PM

We have 3 teenagers and an 8 yr old. We are strict, old fashioned parents who were not budging on NOT introducing the gadget world to our kids. However, our family counselor had a great point. Our gadgets do NOT have to control our family. We can control them.

The cousnelor said that we better learn how to parent with technology before our kids leave us behind and do GOD KNOWS WHAT behind our backs. So, first we educated ourselves on facebook, twitter, Iphones...ect(this was several years ago) and this was our conclusion.
We would be naive to think we could hold our children hostage from gadgets/internet forever. So, (for the teenagers over 13) we started with a family laptop and basic android phones. Yes, I have to admit, it was getting tiresome sharing our computers with the 3 of them. We then got our son an XBox and the girls a Wii. We use their games as fun rewards and family time on the weekends and we plan atleast one outside activity every weekend. All of our children are invloved in atleast one extracurricular activity through their school and we find that helps keep them socially and physically active enough. As far as phones, they haven't gotten outrageous with them (yet ), but I do occasionally check out their messages and pictures to make sure things are staying PG (don't care what people say about their privacy, so save your words). Also, we have a basket in the kitchen that ALL (yes, even parents) phones go in while we are at the dinner table (at restaurants if we see them, they are ours for 2 days). Yes, all this monitoring is exhausting, but it's worth it. We are hoping to teach them about moderation that they can apply to anything.
Lord knows we don't have all this figured out yet but we have a great line of communication with our children, which helps immensly. When they want a new gadget, we sit down and talk about how much of their allowance would go towards it, and ,amazingly :), they rarely still want it after our conversation.

With 4 kids, private school tuition, mortgage, car payments ect......... It is hard to play keeping up with the Jones'. So, for now we will continue to play.......Taking care of our own so nobody else has to. Soory for the rant, but this topic hits home!

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RMS January 28 2014 at 12:33 PM

I'd love to be a parent, and try an experiment. No cell phones or technology for the kids till they are twelve years old. Let them learn how to play games and amuse themselves and be kids first, then gradually introduce all the modern gadgets. Maybe then they would grow up to be intelligent people who can spell and write correctly, instead of being socially backward twentysomethings.

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3 replies
Rich January 28 2014 at 11:07 AM

These gadgets irritate me. Ever been Grocery shopping and have a person shopping while using their "smart" phone to access their shopping list? They are so oblivious to their surroundings that they are completely blocking the aisle and they stand there totally oblivious forever! I just stand and stare at them until the pea sized brain inside their head finally kicks in and they realize they are uncomfortable for some reason and they finally notice 20 people are glaring at them. How about while driving? It has almost become more normal to see a person driving and talking on the phone than it is to NOT see it. We have people so engrossed in playing with their phones they are actually losing the skills that allow one to interact in the real world. We have People have walking right into fountains in the mall because they are so engrossed in playing with the dam things. How about a family member sitting at the dinner table and playing with their phone? Good luck talking to a family member who has one. They constantly access useless online information to make their argument and then shoves the dam thing into your face to make their point like the internet is actual proof about what they are saying. How rude! So with all these examples that happen virtually on a daily basis, and especially with the high cost of owning one of these boarding on the outrageous, coupled with the loss of people skills and the hazardous driving conditions these things have caused, I have to ask, If this device is so distracting we can't function in the REAL world and communicate face to face with each other without pulling out the dam phone, How smart is that? It was just 2005 when I got my first cell phone. Before that I did not even own a cell phone at all and I was happier. I still have that phone, but its only there for emergencies. I can't even tell you how long it has been since I have made a call on it. I hate the thing. I don't even carry it anymore. The only reason I still have it is because it is included in our family phone plan, and my wife has a smart phone. Other wise I don't see the value in it. Smart Phones just take an already useless and expensive device and elevate ignorance, antisocial behavior, and irresponsible driving, to a whole other level. I am living quite happily without one. Meanwhile,..whats that funny noise coming out of my chest of drawers, oh It's my phone and it's a telemarketer calling. No Thanks.

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lposi January 28 2014 at 8:52 AM

How about partents acting as parents, not their kids pals!

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1 reply
jamies77 lposi January 28 2014 at 8:59 AM

I agree. Toddlers have no business having a cell phone. What toddlers need is parents that spend time with them. Nurturing them and giving them a sense of being loved and cared for. Even children will tell you they need discipline. Children are now shooting classmates in school and in most cases they are angry about being either bought off by their parents or ignored. They don't need Playstation they need their Mothers and Fathers to play with them while they teach them.

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susancons57 January 28 2014 at 8:51 AM

My grandson who has autism only plays educational apps on my phone or table. The apps have helped him alot. Its amazing to see how he is able to do each app now on his own. It also has come in handy when we go into a restaurant. He will play his apps or watch a video. You have to do everything in moderation. You have to remember that these devices are not cheap and that they are not there to replace you.

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joansutt susancons57 January 28 2014 at 10:59 AM

Glad someone has something positive to say. And I'm also so glad for your grandson.

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grsafe January 28 2014 at 8:43 AM

Smart phones and iPads have become baby sitters for parents. These devices impair a child's ability to interact with others . Parents don't want to deal with crying, boredom , confrontational behaviors children engage in with their siblings, all necessary activities children need to develop social skills. These devices that offer immediate gratification also impair a child's ability to WAIT , their ability to create games when they are bored, and it will decrease the verbal interaction they have with their family. The toddler with a cell phone borders on child neglect. Just a lazy way to keep a child occupied . Soooo sad. Society wonder why children are obese and have limited social skills. What do you expect when their playtime is about sitting with a computer instead of interacting with people. The schools are becoming just as BAD.

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jaywpb grsafe January 28 2014 at 8:56 AM

It sure is a world that is totally alien to us and one we certainly can't inderstand or appreciate. But saying that, it is a world of their piers and one they will live in long after we are dead. My grandparents and parents thought the 45 rpm record player would be the ruination of our world as they knew it. And computers in the workplace, OMG, it would destroy us as a social entity. While I don't like how my grandchildren ae so engrossed in my iphone, they will just do fine with these skills in their world.

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Debbie jaywpb January 28 2014 at 10:33 AM

Are you sure?

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Blackbird Cycles jaywpb January 28 2014 at 10:48 AM

They were right, society has suffered and degraded since these things came to be and it will continue to do so. More is on the way.

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