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Harried parents for years have relied on glowing electronic screens -- TVs, video games, computers -- to entertain children in the home. Now more and more parents are discovering smartphones' similar ability to engage squirmy kids at restaurants, in the car and anywhere else where youngsters grow bored.
Almost half of the top 100-selling apps in the iTunes App Store were for preschool or elementary-aged children in November 2009, according to a content analysis by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which promotes digital media technologies to advance children's learning.
Expert Carly Shuler says the reason for this -- assuming the majority of 3- to 10-year-olds don't own their own phones -- is because adults are taking advantage of the smartphone's ability to act as a mobile learning or entertainment device for their children.
Shuler, a fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (part of the Sesame Workshop) calls this phenomenon the "pass-back" effect -- as in parents passing their phones back to their bored kids.
Shortly after the iPhone came out, Shuler said she noticed children as young as 3 years old playing with the shiny devices.