An iPad recently came to live in my house. I was given it for my birthday, and I’ve enjoyed playing with it. So have my children, who are 7 and 9 and drawn to anything with a screen. By luck or habit or genetic inheritance, they’re also great readers, so I downloaded a couple of interactive ebooks for us to try out: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and Alice for the iPad Lite, a free, shortened version of Alice in Wonderland with the original drawings souped up and made interactive.
They’re a lot of fun, truly, and the kids love them. Why wouldn’t they? The books (apps? book apps?) are whimsical and delightful in many ways, although I have my doubts that Morris really works all that well as a story if you stop and think about it–which you probably won’t, because you’ll be too busy making the books speak famous lines from themselves. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
But what the Dickens is time spent playing around with Morris Lessmore and his fantastic flying books? Should it count as reading time or screen time or something that isn’t quite either? This is what’s got me preoccupied as a parent. Does spending half an hour with interactive Alice equal half an hour watching “Phineas & Ferb” or playing Lego Batman? It doesn’t feel the same to a grownup, anyway, as half an hour spent reading the original, page-bound Alice or Lloyd Alexander’s The High King or a comic book.
My instinct, so far, has been to treat iPad time as more or less equivalent to screen time and to limit it in a way I rarely limit time my offspring spend with traditional printed matter. It’s possible I need a third category that falls somewhere in between. I could also decide that all these modes count as engagement with storytelling and just not worry about what touchscreen time might be doing to my kids’ tender brains. I haven’t made that leap of narrative and neurological faith yet. Should I? Why or why not?