- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio | When Annamarie Saarinen needed to soothe her ailing daughter, she used a rattle — downloaded to her iPhone.

Jeff Hilimire uses a white noise application on his phone to make shushing noises for his infant daughter. And Tracie Stier-Johnson lets her young daughters answer trivia questions on her phone while waiting in the doctor’s office or at parent-teacher conferences.

“You can only play ‘I spy’ so many times,” said Mrs. Stier-Johnson, 40, of Racine, Wis., whose daughters like the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game she loaded on her iPhone.

Parents have handed their cell phones to children as distractions since they were invented, and toy versions tap into children’s love of pushing beeping buttons and playing with electronic gadgets like the ones their parents have. But a mushrooming number of applications on smart phones have parents using them more than ever as modern baby rattles.

These wired-up phones allow parents to play number and letter games with their preschoolers or to get a few minutes of quiet time when children watch movie clips on a plane or while waiting for a restaurant table.

Jenny Reeves, 34, of San Antonio lets her boys — ages 3 and 2 — type words or flip through pictures of themselves and their dog on her BlackBerry when they have to pass time without books. Her elder son is learning to send e-mails to his grandparents and father that say, “I love you.”

“It’s almost as good as lollipops,” Mrs. Reeves said.

People also are making their phones parenting helpers, downloading applications to turn them into impromptu baby monitors, to research nutrition information in grocery aisles and to check their babies’ growth rates compared with average measurements.

Mr. Hilimire, a 33-year-old father from Atlanta, started putting his iPhone to use before his daughter was born, when he timed contractions with the phone’s stopwatch and downloaded software that showed the size of the growing baby.

Now when his infant daughter gets fussy in the car or during a walk, he puts his iPhone in her carrier to play the free application called “White Noise Lite.” “It immediately relaxes her,” he said.

Mrs. Stier-Johnson leaves her iPhone near her sleeping 3-year-old daughter to listen for her to wake when she sits near her pool, which is out of range for her regular baby monitor. An application she downloaded prompts her phone to call her home number or her husband’s iPhone when her daughter makes a noise.

A smart phone can be an expensive child diversion, to be sure. Some parents set rules for children to try to prevent damage, such as no shaking and no carrying the phone on hard surfaces in case it’s dropped.

Some have trouble keeping their phones away from the children, or worry about limiting phone time once the children move into elementary school.

Brooks Duncan of Vancouver, British Columbia, has to hide his iPod touch from his 2-year-old.

“If he sees it, he’ll go for it and want to play with it,” said Mr. Duncan, 35, who bought the device when his children started arguing over their grandfather’s iPhone.

Still, other parents are stunned — and impressed — when their toddlers quickly figure out how to operate the phones, sometimes faster than their mothers and fathers.

When Byron Turner left his new iPhone alone with his 4-year-old twin boys for 25 minutes, they had figured out what many of the phone’s touch-screen buttons did and started taking photographs. The boys, now 6, have improved their spelling with a hangman game and use an application that makes their parents’ phones sound like light sabers, said Mr. Turner, 46, of Grass Valley, Calif.

Mr. Duncan said his children can find what they want by browsing through icons.

“To be able to do that before you’re 4 years old, just think what they’re going to do,” he said.

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