iPadding Children. Critical Information for Parents

The title for this post is inspired by Linked-IN’s “BrainInsights”, a group about Brain Development and Positive Parenting.  There, a talented group of experts connected to discuss their strong beliefs regarding the perils of screen time in toddlers and infants.

“Inspire the Genius” and “It’s Cool to be Smart” are marketing messages of the Vinci Touch Screen Learning System (recommended age 4 and under).  These messages are designed to target the emotions of parents who then open wallets and recklessly spend $479 for the promise of “genius.” 

To Vinci’s credit some of their other products have earned awards and their website clearly states the following:  “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV watching before a child reaches the age of 2.”  But Vinci left out some very important sentences.

The full statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reads as follows:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or screen media such as computer games, videos, or DVDs for children under 2. For children over age 2, the recommendation is 1 to 2 hours per day for television or any screen media.  

Imagine that!  Vinci posted only part of the AAP’s statement because they don’t want potential buyers to know that their touchpad is on the banned list of “all” screen media for children under age two!

It comes as no surprise that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has awarded the Vinci Touchpad as their 2012 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) otherwise known as “the worst toy of the year.”   This organization gripes that the Vinci will “virtually lobotomize an infant.”

That allegation is likely made because research tells us that whether children are in infancy, toddlerhood, or of school age, that an unprecedented amount of screen time is thwarting healthy brain development.  While parents buy computer devices with hopes to make their child smarter they are overlooking other important parts of the brain growth that require the kind of nurturing that electronics simply cannot accomplish. 

Not only are excessive hours of electronic usage robbing children of emotional and social nurturing time through human contact, they are also poised to cause future damage.

A recent New York Times article cites numerous researchers warning that too much screen time actually decreases a child’s attention span, creates an environment where children “find the realities of the world underwhelming and under-stimulating” and may be a contributing factor to the skyrocketing diagnosis of ADHD.  Even childhood obesity has been blamed on children plastered in front of televisions for hours on end.

The research is boundless but enough said!  There are five suggestions below that parents can implement immediately to influence healthy brain development in children of all ages.

Follow the AAP guidelines no matter what it takes! 

Stubbornly refuse to let a child under age 2 get near screens of any type. Strictly limit screen time after age 2.

Replace screen time with play time as frequently as possible. 

Hurried lifestyles and adult dependence on screen time as “entertainment” have robbed children of essential play.  In a 10 page report, the AAP states “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights as a right for every child.”  Consistent play times with loving caregivers provide children with the right kind of brain development not just cognitively, but emotionally and socially. Kids can grow bonds and trusting relationships with their caregivers.  Play allows children to learn how to interact with real people and real situations. They learn to manage difficult emotions and learn competencies that will help them when they face future challenges.  For example, with an adult’s help, three year old Johnny learns how to manage when Steven swipes his toy truck.  18 month old Penny learns how to clap for herself by following the cues of her caretaker.  She’s building her confidence too!  The life skills required to successfully navigate the game of life are born out of play.  And playtime is free!  It doesn’t cost anything to stack plastic containers from a kitchen cabinet, or dance to music in a living room.

Do not use screens as a babysitter! 

Do not use screens as a babysitter!  Do not use screens as a babysitter!  CCFC was right.  You might as well “lobotomize” your child!  Developing brains need as much quality human contact as possible.

Be present when your child is using any kind of screen device.  

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the child’s brain that discerns “good from bad”, “right from wrong”, “risk versus safety” etc. and will not fully develop until the mid 20’s. This means children need adult guidance to help them make sense of concepts applicable to their real world.  So while a 5 year old hears a good message about values from the television show “Arthur”, he or she still needs a loving adult to help them apply the concept into reality.

Consider your grandparents’ ideas. 

Generations ago, there were creative solutions for passing time in a car or an airplane.  Coloring and story books created a new and brilliant generation in which you, dear reader, are included!  Today many parents covet travel time as an “electronics free zone” in which they can learn about “stuff” in their child’s world.  Yes, parents can actually start conversations in which they learn about their child’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, grievances, and joys about millions of possible subjects. Why not capitalize on this window of opportunity to share your commonalities, debate your differences, guide your child’s maturity, or simply bond.

So in the end, parents can certainly choose to splurge on the $479 Vinci touchpad. If used as the only screen resource within the recommendations of the AAP, maybe, just maybe, it might serve a little short term value.  Used between ages 2 and 4 it ends up costing 66 cents a day monetarily. How much will it cost if parents allow it to become a babysitter? 

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