For reasons too complicated, ridiculous, and potentially awesome to explain, my four-year-old daughter has a Nintendo DSi. And, so as not to mince words about it, she loves the thing.
As with so many of her compatriots, she has grown up watching her parents utilize computers, videogaming devices, and smartphones. Watching us and being inquisitive about such things now means that she can work an iPhone with a proficiency that Steve Jobs would admire. She is not quite as skilled with games as she is with opening and closing them and knowing where to find various apps, but she does love the games.
Perhaps though that is not quite as accurate as I’d like it to be – the issue is not that she’s not that good with games, but rather that her goals are different than those you or I might have when playing. She is still trying to figure out how things work – what button does what and what the results of move X, Y, or Z will be – it’s the relations she’s interested in and not the results.
This electronic activity is, in my estimation, a delicate balance. While her “screen” time certainly needs to be limited, I try not to limit what device it is she is playing with during that time (except for my iPhone, if she wants to play with an iPhone it can be my wife’s). Being able to manipulate these devices, being comfortable with them and technology in general, I think, is going to be crucially important in her life (I won’t enter into a question of dexterity and reaction times, etc., but I think there’s an argument to be made there as well). With appropriate supervision, appropriate app/game choices, and a parental lock, I’m all for limited access to a computer, a gaming console or handheld device, and a smartphone. I think that what they really do is broaden her horizon. I’m all for that, and she is too. Plus, let me say again, she loves the wizardry of it all.
I don’t think that this makes her vastly different than any other child her age, and like those other children she is not always as careful with a device costing a few hundred dollars as she potentially ought to be. A certain amount of clumsiness is par for the course with a four-year-old and while that clumsiness is fine when it is with a $10 or $20 toy, when it comes to an electronic device costing upwards of $100, the fewer drops the better.
Enter the folks at dreamGEAR who have partnered with Sesame Workshop to release cases (and lots of other things) for the Nintendo DS line of handhelds. My daughter may not be the biggest Sesame Street fan, but she does have a soft spot in her heart for Muppets and the combining of her DSi with the Sesame characters was met with enthusiastic applause when she saw the new shell for her handheld. The case is a clear, hard, plastic one with pictures of Sesame Street characters on the outside and comes with decals for the inside of the DS as well.
Not having allowed my daughter to drop her Nintendo to test the strength of the case, I will only say that they look sturdy enough and will certainly protect it from scratches (I assume minor drops as well though). I will also say that the decals for the inside are quite difficult to situate perfectly and certainly not something a four-year-old has the dexterity to achieve even if she can snap on the outer case.
Have I now committed some sort of double sin, allowing my child not only a Nintendo DSi but combining it with a branded case, thereby not so subtly indoctrinating my child into a consumerist mindset? I don’t think so. I don’t purport to be a child psychologist, but I do know that there hasn’t been one request to watch Sesame Street since the case went on to her DSi, she just likes the way it looks (I like the fact that it seems more sturdy now). Plus, if she is going to want to watch more Sesame Street, that does seem like a better choice than so many other television shows/films I could name.
Lastly, I know that if my daughter’s DSi were to get a massive scratch on the outside not only would I be upset about it, but she would be too. She doesn’t play it every day, not even every week, but she does love the thing, how it works, and how it looks. If for the cost of a case ($5.99) I can protect the device and her happiness, that really doesn’t seem like a lot to spend.
Eventually, she will almost certainly want the case and decals removed. Then, she will declare the DS a baby’s toy and issue an ultimatum about getting an iPhone of her own. Then a car. Then a house. As her father, I would wrap every last one of those things in a case to protect them – and her and her happiness – if I could. For now though the DS case will have to do. Like her, I’m figuring it all out one step at a time, still exploring and feeling my way through things. I have undoubtedly made mistakes and will undoubtedly make more, but I’m going to say that a branded case for a DS is not one of them, that the case is a win-win even if some would question the use of the device as a whole.
What I wonder though is how long I can put off that iPhone conversation.