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My Daughter, Her Handheld, and Why I Love For Her to Have It

Huffington Post recently ran an article talking about the dangers of handheld use in children and how devices like tablets, cell phones, and the like should be banned for children under the age of twelve. Now in this article I will freely admit that pediatrician Chris Rowan cited a ton of studies and I have not thoroughly investigated every single one of them yet. However, she did link increased aggression to violent video games like Grand Theft Auto V, which is not intended for children anyway, and the first study she linked to about exposure to technology being associated with "executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums" was a study about watching television (A passive medium), not handhelds (Most times an interactive one).

In conclusion, I didn't take it terribly seriously.

One of the best $125 I have ever spent was on a LeapPad2 educational tablet for my daughter when she was three-years-old. I honestly believe it has done wonders for her, especially in two areas that I am most keen for her to excel in.

The first is reading. The LeapPad comes with an excellent selection of interactive storybooks, and the Kid With One F's current favorite is one from Disney's Cinderella. As she plays through it with helpful narration, the game asks her to pick the next appropriate word from a selection. Since we mostly use the LeapPad on car rides the interaction usually goes like this.

LeapPad: Cinderella's step-sisters were cruel. Tap the word cruel.

Daughter: Daddy? How do you spell cruel?

Me: What letter does it start with?

Daughter: C-ruel. C?

Me: Yep. Good job. Is there a word there that starts with C?

Daughter: Yeah!

LeapPad: Correct. You picked cruel. Cruel means selfish and mean to others.

Honestly, since she started delving into these vocabulary word-based titles her ability to read through context and use phonics to sound out words has grown at an enormous rate. She's starting to be able to read story books on her own with help. Not all of it is due to the tablet, but some of it definitely is.

The second important thing that she's picking up from playing with LeaPad is problem solving. Brave is another favorite title. I must have heard her go through the point-and-click first level at least two dozen times by now. Each time she remembers an answer, or figures out a puzzle a little quicker. Merida needs her bow? Search the cupboards. Need to sneak by the guard to get her mother as a bear out of the castle? Fix a meal, ring the dinner bell, and walk by when he's not looking.

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She's getting amazing at it, almost to the point where she doesn't even need my help to get past any of the levels any more. The games are presenting her with very basic puzzles that get slightly harder the further in you go, and each time she masters one it opens up whole new trains of thought for her that will be instrumental in life. Make no mistake, human existence is a series of side-quests, and she's level grinding early thanks to the LeapPad.

Don't get me wrong. Rowan has some points. I do let her take the LeapPad to bed with her and sometimes it does contribute to her not going to sleep until well past her bedtime. That's not a good thing. I also don't like the frustration I hear from her when she has trouble making progress in the games. I remember my own screaming reactions to Ninja Gaiden deaths when I was a child, and would really rather not have her be filled with that white hot rage and disappointment. Luckily, games will never be that cruel to their users again.

Still, I'm glad she has it. I was more than twice her age before I began using a computer, whereas she will instinctively know things I still struggle with. There are dangers that come from these devices, but as far as I've seen in my daughter they are less significant than what she's gained from it.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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