Time was when there were different rules for the many different bits of equipment that might educate or distract a child.
Way back then, the telephone was kept in a central location, so Mom and Dad could know how much time you spent gabbing with your friends. If you were lucky, it had a really long cord so you could pull it around a corner or behind a closed door.
The television was also a communal thing. Mostly entertainment, some educational value. There wasn't all that much to watch on any given night, so parents could limit use without too much push back.
A typewriter, though, was allowed anytime. Why would anyone tell a young student he or she was spending too much time on the typewriter? And encyclopedias were the same thing. Yes Junior, you may keep Volume W in your room overnight. Of course you may read it for awhile before you go to bed.
Today, a single seductive machine serves all these purposes. A computer or laptop or tablet is simultaneously our children's source of communication, procrastination, education and entertainment. What rules to make, then, for this hydra-headed tool?
If you haven't needed to answer that question already, you will any minute now. A Nielsen survey released today, titled "American Families See Tablets as Playmate, Teacher and Babysitter," found that in households that contained both children and tablet computers, seven out of ten kids under the age of 12 used the tablet -- a 9 percent increase compared with just three months earlier.
And what are these not-yet-12-year-olds using their tablets for? All the things that kids have always done but have traditionally needed to do less sleekly and more publicly. Mostly they are downloading games (77 percent do that). "Educational purposes" trails in second place (57 percent) with "entertainment while traveling" (55 percent) close behind. Forty-three percent use the tablets to "watch TV shows/movies," while 41 percent entertain themselves at restaurants and other events, and only 15 percent say they "communicate with friends and family" on the devices.
So in the not-quite-two-years since the iPad was introduced, then, we have gone from zero (percentage of parents I'd bet let their preteens play with the gadgets at first) to 70 (percentage that do now). Are you among them? If so, when the tablet is in your child's hands, do you look at it as you would a telephone? A television? A typewriter? An encyclopedia? What are the rules at your house?