Today, we far too often see toddlers being entertained by iPads, tablets and mobile phones. They are totally captivated by the bright coloured screens, which we call technology. Some parents buy their toddler their own iPad, to save them having to fight with the toddler over their own, or an older sibling’s devices! Having met numerous families who have done this, I am still stunned every time I meet another – I can’t imagine giving my toddler free reign of a £600 bit of technology!
I can see why these parents do what they do, but this in no way makes it right! I know that it is easier to do the household chores when your child is sitting quietly and staying out of trouble. If you go out to a restaurant and you hand them an iPad, you can keep them sitting still in a situation where they would normally be running around creating havoc. It gives parents time to have a slow leisurely lunch. It gives them a chance to finish conversations. It all makes perfect sense to so many parents…
But what I also see is how “the family” is breaking down. With an iPad or an iPhone in front of our children’s faces, not only do we spend less time engaging and interacting with them, but we grow apart from our children and we start becoming dependent on these pieces of equipment. Our children become so absorbed by the technology that it becomes almost impossible to break them away to ask a question. And you are at risk of a major meltdown when it is time to switch the thing off.
Why are so many impressed when a toddler can use an iPad, an iPhone or any other smartphone or tablet? All they need do is tap until something happens, just like they do with any V-Tech or other electronic toys where they hit buttons to make noises or lights flash. The more you show praise towards your children for using this technology the more they view using these things as a positive when it really isn’t.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was with a client who was furiously shaking an iPhone and a selection of noisy toys in front of her nine month old baby’s face in an attempt to get him to eat. He was then moved to the carpet where he was surrounded by a selection of other noisy toys all making squeaky noises, singing squeaky songs and playing high-pitched tunes. He was irritable and then miserable as more toys made more noise. When we put all the noisy toys away and replaced them with simple stacking cups, balls and cubes, he started to pick things up, look at them and put them into his mouth. He started to interact and engage and enjoy himself.
Surrounding children with toys that only require them to push a button to make a noise is preparing them for life with an iPad, however it is not allowing them to develop or explore using any of their senses. If you look at a baby or toddler’s face while they use electric toys or devices, you will notice that even though they may be smiling, they are usually totally zoned out. If you watch a child playing with other toys, they will go through a multitude of expressions as they work things out, make discoveries and use their imagination.
We do not know what the long-term impact will be upon the developing brain because this is the first generation where technology has been put upon them before they can crawl. It is taking noisy brightly coloured children’s TV shows to a new level.
More and more parents are finding that unless the children are being entertained by electronic devices, they are difficult and even unbearable to be around. The more time children spend with technology, the more difficult they find it to be without it. And many parents fear how they will cope with their children without technology.
We recommend, a maximum of 20 minutes of screen time per day for children under the age of seven. They do not need 20 minutes, but for most parents who need to cook the dinner, that should be enough. So, if you are thinking about buying an iPad for your toddler for Christmas, I ask you to please think again. I watched my two-year-old son tapping out a text message on my mobile phone, but instead of thinking he was a genius, I thought, “I spend too long on my phone in front of him!”
If you are impressed that your toddler can find their way around YouTube and a few “educational” apps, think again and think about what being a parent is really about.