The Parents’ Field Guide to Tech-Savvy Toddlers

toddler holding a smartphone

Ok, sure: Every parent knows a cell phone is not a great toy for a toddler. But parents are also human and during long restaurant waits, agonizing car trips, and other moments when you just need a bit of peace, nothing works quite like a smartphone.

What we mean to happen, of course, when we hand over our primary means of communication to a two- or three-year old is for him or her to play a few parent-controlled, age-appropriate games and then return the device without fuss. What actually happens, sometimes, is a bit more surprising.


Here are just some of the unexpected roles kids can play when they get their sticky little hands on your phone.

1. The Fine-Art Photographer
A couple dozen weird close-ups of body parts -- or are those dog parts? -- appear in your photo stream. Sometimes they're just odd or repetitive, but other times they turn out to be treasures.

"I have a whole album on Facebook called 'Ben has my phone,'" says Cary, a mom of two in New Jersey. "[W]hen you look at the thumbnails, they are really pretty. I actually printed and framed a few for his room."

2. The Translator
Kids can sometimes figure out settings on your phone you have no idea even exist. This happened to me once when my daughter was talking to Siri. I was only half paying attention, doing some chores, and they seemed to have a pretty good conversation going. But the next time I wanted to use my digital "assistant" I discovered she was speaking Mandarin Chinese. I have no idea how my child managed this. I only know it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to get back to English.

3. The Big Spender
Repeat after me: "I need to make my password for in-app purchases harder to remember." Toddlers are watching when you type in that secret code to unlock the next level of their game or download another episode of a favorite TV show. It took me finding a $17.99 charge on my bank statement to learn this one.

4. The Paparazzo
This is the fine-art photographer's dark alter ego: stealthy little ones snapping pics you never want the world to see.

"I found several photos on my phone of me sitting -- pants down -- on the toilet," says Sarah, mom of 3 from Brooklyn. "I looked just as good as I always imagined I would while on the toilet. I'm still not sure who the culprit was on that one."

More from The Stir: 19 Ways Your Phone Can Make You a More Efficient Parent

5. The Alarmist
"Max once called 911 and the police came," says Melissa from Chicago. "Instead of taking my word that my son did it, they wanted to come in and be sure."

6. The Bad Secretary
"When my parents try [to] FaceTime he always rejects the call because they're interrupting his shows," says Amy from Wilmington, Delaware. "And if they do make it through he continues to try and turn them off... 'I don't want to talk to Pop-Pop!' He did that on my dad’s birthday."

Sometimes, of course, they do the opposite and call the very people we want to avoid! "He called the Sallie Mae people back when I kept rejecting their calls," says Merry, a mom from Maryland. "Guess he was trying to keep me honest."

7. The Clever Texter
"My niece takes my sister's phone and sends me about 50 texts that have nothing but emoji because she can’t write," says Merry. "But the pictures always seem to tell a story. I think she's a genius."

8. The Social Media Oversharer
"Once, while I was filling out forms at the doctor, Eva, who was 3, was playing a game called Jetpack on my phone. It has no educational value but was very good at keeping her in her chair," remembers Sarah. "I came back to find she had somehow linked to [her father's] Twitter account and tweeted her score 3 times. Since he only ever tweets about art, it was a departure for him."

What’s the craziest thing your toddler has done with your phone?


Laura Wallis is a freelance writer and editor and mom of two who is in the process of moving from Brooklyn to the burbs. Current preoccupations include old house maintenance and late-night tv for insomniacs.

Image ©

Read More >