iPadding toddlers: When is it too soon?

01/12/2011 8:08

The article above is a none to subtle advertisement masquerading as journalism. It reminds me of the Lewis Carroll quote, ” What I tell you three times is true”.

Some highlights….” When C and her 4-year-old son, load the car….tomorrow, you can bet they won’t forget one crucial item: the iPad.  It’s a toss-up who likes the iPad more ……C loves that it lets her accomplish housework and cooking, and, of course, entertains L in the car. “I’m able to do what I need to get done,” 

“Tablets, smartphones and other sophisticated technological products have made their way into the preschool, toddler and even the baby set. According to a new poll by Common Sense Media, close to 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds have used a smartphone, tablet or videoiPod and 10 percent of children younger than 2 have. The devices keep kids busy at restaurants, in doctors’ waiting rooms, in airport terminals, anyplace where a kid might be miserable and bored being confined or where parents would like them to sit quietly and behave.

As with other screen entertainment, opinions are divided into whether screen time is good or evil for children so young. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, recently recommended that children younger than 2 watch no television.

“Most people don’t realize what is best for children’s brain development,” argues Deborah McNelis, who developed the Milwaukee-based company Brain Insights. Her company sells activity packets the size of a deck of cards that give parents ideas for simple, hands-on, interactive activities they can do with their child instead of handing them an iPad, and is test marketing an app called “Love your Baby” so parents can access the alternative activity suggestions with their iPads. No one else sees the irony here?

Others see the iPad, for instance, as another avenue for learning. J… is offering “Mommy and Me”-type classes that incorporate the iPad into the 45-minute experience. Participants will first read a book together, then play with an app related to the book topic, and then make a craft. She’ll offer classes for ages 8 months to 18 months, 18 months to 21/2 years, and 21/2 years to 4. “I think if you make it an interactive, educational screen time, it doesn’t make them into couch potatoes,” ???????

L.. grandmother of 2-year-old Z, says she lets her grandson watch “Toy Story” and listen to music on her iPhone. He’ll also listen to music, sometimes even Beethoven. “He’ll hold my phone and he dances,” she says. As with anything in life, the key is moderation, ….. “I don’t use it as a baby-sitter. I don’t say, ‘Here Zachary, go play with Grandma’s iPhone while I go watch TV.'”

K says her son, B, who just turned 2 in September, loves to watch videos on her iPad and play with an app called “Zoo Train.” “It teaches about puzzles, letter recognition, even making words,” she says of the app. “I can’t sit there all day with flashcards with him. He’ll get bored. This is an interactive way for him to learn.”

She says even though she’s handing over a device that costs close to $500 to a toddler, she would prefer that to allowing him on her PC or laptop. “At this age I wouldn’t let him on my computer for fear that he’ll push something wrong and erase my whole hard drive.” She’s not as concerned about him messing up apps on the iPad. “He knows how to tap it twice so it will open. My husband and I are amazed that he is picking up this technology at age 2.”

The basis of this opinion piece is a report by a “Not for profit ” corporation called Common Sense media. Common Sense media commissioned the data collection used in the report from Knowledge Networks.

Common Sense Media ranks amongst its distribution supporters some of the worlds largest purveyors of digital content, apps, games films etc. including AOL, Bing (Microsoft), Comcast, Cox, DIRECTV, Disney Disney Family, Fandango, Google, Greatschools, NBC Universal, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Nominum, Road Runner, TiVo, Time Warner Cable, Tribune Media Services, Verizon Foundation, XFINITY and Yahoo. They also have Education supporters? like Apple, Disney, ePals, Inc. , Google, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Thinkfinity (The Verizon Foundation)

I thought, give the report the benefit of the doubt, some information presented in the article may have been misperceptions by the reporter, thus giving the obvious bias to the article. What bias? The less than subtle one that details how parents just like you and I are weaning our babies and toddlers on the Ipad teat, because? .. Because it’s convenient. Toss in a single sentence reference to a 2001 AAP report that focuses solely on the television watching habits of adolescents and children, then back to spruiking classes and app’s. 

There are references in the article and the report to the devices being used as electronic babysitters, the references are dovetailed with emphatic denials that no this is not the case. Seriously, what parent, when asked point blank, “Do you avoid interacting with your child by giving them an electronic device to distract them”, is going to say yes? We’re way past using TV’s as babysitters and into the territory of using circuit boards as nannies. The difference? Babysitters are occasional and go home. Nannies are there all day and night ready to step in comfort and shape those little minds.       

Having read the report I consider its methodology to be highly questionable in its choice of sample group and inquiry structure and that the key points and conclusions drawn are ambiguous at best and suspicious at worst. 

The only thing I do agree with in the report is the final statement, “As a nation, we need to continue to think about, research, and debate the impact of media on young children. Media occupy such a substantial place in children’s lives that we ignore it — or take it for granted — at our peril.”

I suggest you read the article and report to draw your own conclusions. I would love to receive your feedback.

Tess Michaels