It's OK for parents to let their kids play on the phone occasionally. Letting preschoolers use a pre-approved app or look at photos is an easy way to buy some downtime when you need it. It's very common for parents to hand over their phones to their kids. According to Common Sense's 2013 study "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America," 72 percent of kids 8 and under have used a mobile device for some sort of media activity -- and 38 percent of kids under 2 have used a mobile device for media.
But think about how much time your preschooler is playing with apps, and make sure it's balanced with plenty of outdoor or active play, plus lots of quality family interactions.
Tips for letting your preschooler play with your phone:
Watch and listen to how your child is engaging. Make sure you download age-appropriate apps, and check them out first to make sure you think the subject matter is age-appropriate. Can your kid understand the words? Manipulate the game? Really young kids are still developing their fine motor skills, so unless you want a frustrated child on your hands, make sure a game doesn't require lots of coordination.
Build positive habits. Remember that kids quickly develop routines. If they associate going to restaurants or driving in a car with playing games on your phone, it will be difficult to transition them out of this behavior.
Balance coping skills. Ultimately, we want kids to be able to amuse themselves in a variety of settings and with different tools, even if they only have their imaginations. Make sure your kids are equally comfortable with picture books, music, and crayons as they are with tablets and TVs.
Keep an eye on the phone. It can get dropped (on the floor, in a toilet), wedged in a seat, or left in a seat pocket. These things are expensive!
Remember that you're their role model. Kids learn their behavior from you. Consider narrating your use of the phone ("I'm texting your dad to remind him to pick up milk") so they can understand the utility of the tool.