Are Toy Cellphones Bad for Kids?

Given how often parents are glued to their cellphones, it makes sense that their toddlers would want one, too -- and that toy cellphones have exploded in popularity. Some models teach numbers, others sing songs.

Yet some parents worry that this isn't just harmless play but could be setting their kids up for trouble down the road. After all, we're constantly being warned to monitor our kids' connection to the digital world and limit screen time. But don't throw out that plastic phone yet.


Overall, experts say that toy cellphones are no reason to worry. "Part of healthy identity formation for children is to play out adult activities, such as shopping, dressing up, or cleaning," says Mark Loewen, a parent consultant in Richmond, Virginia. "Playing with a toy cellphone is one more way of imitating adults and rehearsing the behaviors the child witnesses daily." 

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This mimicry, in fact, is a developmental milestone that is scored on the University of Michigan Early Intervention Developmental Profile, a tool used to measure the development of a child under 3 and contains specific questions about copying household activities.

Another comforting thought to keep in mind is that toy phones are nothing new.

"Tots have been playing with toy phones for generations," adds Jill Vetstein, a clinical social worker and parenting coach in Framingham, Massachusetts. "I remember vividly the toy rotary phone I was glued to when I was young that you could pull with a cord. As it moved, the eyes on it would move. I'm not quite sure why a telephone had eyes, but it did not seem to bother me one bit!"

One thing parents should keep in mind is that your child is mimicking you with that toy -- so you need to watch your own cellphone usage.

"For instance, does the parent put down their phone to look at their child when they're talking, or set the phone aside during dinner?" Loewen notes. "That has a much higher influence on their child's future behavior than if they have a toy cellphone or not."

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So if you're texting while driving or buried in your emails at the playground rather than engaged with your tots, don't be surprised if they do the same -- with their toy cellphones or their real ones once they're older. But if you're a responsible cellphone user in front of the kiddos, let the play begin!

Does your baby have a toy cellphone? What are your "rules" about using your own in front of them?


Image © Mike Watson/moodboard/Corbis

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