Digital Age – iPAD time for a 4 year old

While reading a book called ‘The Big Disconnect’ – on family life in this digital age, I came across this short passage that I find worth sharing.

Alissa is four and a half years old and delights in describing what she likes to do when she gets home from school. “My favourite thing to do is play dress-up”, she tells me.

When she plays it, which is most days after school, Alissa sits on the couch or perhaps at the kitchen table with the family iPad. She’s good at this game because she plays it a lot and her little index finger darts expertly from space to space as she selected items and colours. Tiara or barrette? Tap! Stiletto heels or peep-toe pumps? Tap! Pink or purple? Read belt or blue? Visor or sun hat? Tap! Tap! Tap! She also listens to the Tide or Claritin commercials that play before the games begin. Like many of her preschool peers, she plays a variety of apps and screen games, often in the car driving home from school or while they wait to pick up brother or sister from after-school activities. Then some more at home.


Alissa says that playing dress-up is her favourite thing to do, but what she is doing is not playing dress-up. Playing dress-up means digging through the box for something you like; maybe you pick one shoe and then you have to find the other, but while you’re looking, you find a different one. All the while you’re making up a story to go with it: you may start out as a princess, but then you find the wizard hat and suddenly you decide to become a sorcerer – if you can resist the pull of the shiny sheriff’s badge and the fringed leather vest it’s pinned onto. You might feel one fabric and then another, compare the texture and colour, even smell them, to arrive at a conclusion about what you like and who you don’t like; you might imagine yourself in one story or another and like or dislike the character or the story taking shape; you might not find that other matching shoe and in that moment experience a pang of disappointment – and then, rather than give up, figure out an alternative to resolve your unhappiness. You might play dress-up with a friend and the two of you could trade shoes and tops and commentary, size up each other’s costumes and ideas, pick up on another’s facial cues and body language expressing opinions and feelings about the play in progress, and eventually whether to keep playing or call it quits and move on to something else. You might argue and find out just how far you can boss a friend around before it spoils a good time. Maybe your mom or sibling would come in and ask what’s up and you’d get to tell them the story unfurling from that box of dress-ups – or the falling out over it.


Handling things and fitting them together, changing in and out of clothing and imaginary scenarios, negotiating with a friend, parading around in your creation and imagining yourself as different than yourself, tattling to your mom and feeling heard, and having her talk with you about it: all those little movement and thought-filled moments develop your sense of self and your relationship with the things and people around you. All these iterations stretch creativity and develop imaginations. They deepen your capacity to learn and keep learning, taking you on to new developmental challenges and growth.


Children learn by touch and not by passively clicking a mouse. The screen experience lacks the touch, smell, human interaction with other child and adults, the one-to-one response, eye contact, facial expression voice and tone.

Something to think about every time we offer an iPad app to our child.


Ashani Hirway

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