Editor’s Note: This article reflects only the author’s opinion
“When I have kids I am going to raise my children completely different from everyone else.”
“How so? I asked.
My interest was definitely piqued.
I wanted to know why my 11-year-old was quite vehement that he would parent differently from others.
(Note this is a great question to ask your kids – what would they do differently as parents?).
“Well for starters, I would never, EVER let my baby play with an iPhone.”
This was coming from a child who had his own iPad at age 6, a fact that I promptly reminded him of.
“Yeah I know – I was six. I wasn’t a baby!”
It was then that I realized that I was lucky enough to have children at a time when smartphones and tablets weren’t the rage.
Because who knows, maybe I too would have nonchalantly handed my device to my child in hopes of getting a moment’s rest — completely unaware of the long-term ramifications of this act.
Because that is obviously why parents pass their devices to their kids, right? To keep them quiet or happy while they are busy doing other stuff.
I don’t think any parent truly thinks about the ramifications of this action because if they did, they would in fact pause for a second and think twice before handing their device over.
To clarify, I’m referring to iPhone and iPad usage for children aged up to 36 months. Thereafter moderated screen time is just fine, if parents are comfortable with the content and the length of time that the device is used. Also if your child has special needs your life circumstances are different and you may find that this recommended strategy of avoiding all screen time in children under 36 months isn’t feasible and may not apply.
I know it isn’t kind to pass this sort of judgment onto parents who allow their young kids who play with their devices, but I have to agree with my son.
If I had the choice between raising a baby or toddler with or without access to iPhones and iPads I would pick the latter.
1. Parents think they have no other option when, in fact, they do.
Did you know that the first iPhone was invented in 2007 and the first iPad was invented in 2010?
This means for thousands of years before the release of these devices parents had to come up with different alternatives to entertaining their kids.
I know what it’s like — parenting can be hard.
I can still clearly remember the early years when the days were long and time felt like a bottomless pit that could never be filled.
We had to take our kids grocery shopping without giving them a device to keep them quiet.
We went out to dinners and forced them to entertain themselves, without an app, YouTube video or movie to keep them quiet.
But guess what? We did it.
Even better, there’s no reason why it still can’t be done.
2. It is honestly a sad sight for me to witness a baby or toddler staring mesmerized into a screen.
Let’s take a quick trip back to 2006 when I had a little baby and toddler to parent.
Rather than stare into a screen for the duration of a shopping trip, my children had little choice but to look around and observe the world around them.
I would hand them grocery items to hold and they would quietly observe whatever was in their hands and if bored, look around to see what was happening around them.
Their eyes were not glued mere centimeters away to some loud, vibrant app or video clip that kept them occupied with a non-stop stream of music, movement or information.
They had to get used to a lack of entertainment and work out an alternative way to have some fun.
They had to accept some quiet time, a period where they were forced to reflect or think for on their own for a while.
Here’s what we had to do instead:
– We would go to the library regularly to read books.
– My babies and toddlers would sit on the kitchen floor (don’t worry, it was clean) surrounded by pots and pans and bang away happily in a solo orchestra.
– They would explore our backyard.
– They would play imaginary games for hours with their toys.
– They would play in a sand-pit, in their cubby house or the play gym happily – because, hey there was no other easier option for fun available.
– My young kids needed to make their own fun
Mom and dad didn’t hand this fun to them in a shiny device filled with millions of videos or apps that entranced them like a snake-charmer who woos his prey.
3. The statistics for babies and toddlers who have access to electronics from an early age are grim.
Even though some babies learn to swipe, press play, scan through videos or photos and close disliked apps before they learn to crawl, it doesn’t always have the positive impact parents are perhaps hoping for when they pass these devices over to their young kids.
What are these parents thinking?
That these devices are helping their babies or toddlers grow?
That because their child has memorized some colors or animals (that in the olden days babies and toddlers learned from interacting with humans) these devices are somehow making them smarter?
One step forward, two steps back.
Though parents are recommended to not use iPads and iPhones as electronic babysitters and they are also warned to eliminate all screen time for children under the age of two, they still insist on using these devices to keep their kids happy.
What they don’t realize is this:
iPhones and iPads interfere with crucial talk time with their parents.
Not only that but babies and toddlers are missing out on the three-dimensional interaction with other human beings and objects they absolutely need and they can’t do this when they are glued to a screen.
Sure, you may think it’s only ten minutes or twenty minutes – seriously how could that hurt a kid, right? But watch what happens as time goes on…
The screen is as alluring as a drug.
Before you know it, one or two hours becomes acceptable and sometimes even more, if the child is already in the throes of screen addiction and the parent doesn’t know how to set appropriate boundaries.
Apps do not teach babies and toddlers the same crucial skills that they get from physically engaging with objects. App do not teach a baby or toddler how the real world works.
We do not get instant entertainment and gratification in the real world.
I’m sorry but this is the wrong lesson to be teaching your babies and toddlers! It really is.
There is also concern about the possible negative effects such as cancer and neurological effects that come from babies having exposure to such devices when their skulls are still thin, incomplete and their brains are still developing.
Protecting kids from overuse is in a parent’s best interests.
The results from studies are bleak – teens who spend at least six hours a day looking at a screen are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than one hour a day on a device.
And you need to remember – current teens with serious screen addiction problems didn’t even have access to smartphones and tablets as a baby or toddler.
Does anyone remember that Steve Jobs said he didn’t let his kids use iPads and he limited their screen time too.
If he, the late, great man responsible for creating the same device your child is screaming to play with, thought it was wise to refrain from giving it to a child, does it make you question your own decisions right now?
BUT MY CHILD HAS A TANTRUM IF I DON’T LET HIM OR HER USE MY IPHONE OR IPAD?
If that’s the case you need to remember, who the adult is and who the child is here.
Um… for the record, YOU ARE THE ADULT. Did you forget that?
You are responsible for making sure your children don’t build unhealthy addictions in life.
Think about the following scenarios:
What would you do if your child was running onto a busy road? You would pull them away from it.
What would you do if your child was playing with a sharp knife? You would remove it from their hands.
What would you do if they were glued inches away from the TV all day? You would switch the TV off, right?
In all these situations, there is the potential for tears but that doesn’t stop you from acting like an adult in the situation BECAUSE YOU KNOW BEST.
If your baby or toddler is crying for a device, distract them with an alternative object such as a book or toy.
Sure, you can probably see how your child may think that this is a rotten deal – it was so much easier to be entertained by a device, they didn’t have to do anything except stare at a screen.
Books and toys on the other hand require ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT AND WORK (at least it feels like work to a child who has been exposed regularly to a tempting screen – to my kids, books and toys were A GIFT!)
Expect some tears to begin with but your child will eventually get over their obsession with the small screen IF YOU ARE CONSISTENT.
I’M NOT GOING TO PRETEND I AM A PERFECT PARENT
As a mom of a teenager and pre-teen son, I know full well how addictive screens can be to kids (and adults!), especially if you don’t set boundaries to keep this screen-time under control.
If left to their own devices, many kids and teens would probably laze around all day on Instagram, YouTube or using their X-Box and PS4s machines.
But just because they would, doesn’t mean they should.
We are definitely not a TV, iPad or iPhone-free house – I personally love all of these devices in moderation and so too do my kids.
However that’s the key: EVERYTHING IN MODERATION.
It’s vital that we focus on the important things first – interaction with other humans (our family and friends), our dreams and goals, personal projects and any activities or tasks that require our attention and so on.
IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE IMPORTANT THINGS FIRST.
NOTE: Playing games or watching videos on your devices does not count as an important thing first.
That being said, I do not believe that the same philosophy of EVERYTHING IN MODERATION applies to babies and toddlers with devices.
Why? Because I don’t see the point of introducing those devices to children at such a young age…
Hypocritical of me? Not really.
It’s like how we say alcohol is fine in moderation for adults – that doesn’t mean the same rule applies for kids.
Are you handing your kid a glass of wine at dinner tonight?
Sugar is also fine in moderation for older kids, but you wouldn’t introduce this unnecessary ingredient to babies and toddlers any earlier than necessary would you?
Do you think it’s appropriate for a baby to have a handful of jellybeans?
We seriously do not yet know the ramifications of babies and toddlers playing with iPhones and iPads yet, so why in the world would you take the risk?
And there is a risk, I promise you.
We have seen the negative effects from children exposed to such devices at an older age, and they aren’t pretty.
Screens are addictive even to adults who know better and even once they know better, they still can’t tear themselves away from it.
It’s like handing a loaded gun to your baby or toddler. You are asking for trouble. You are creating your own monster.
Or maybe it’s more like planting a drug in your child’s hands and saying, “It’s okay. You can have just a little bit” and then getting upset when they want more and more and even more.
May I remind you again that for thousands and thousands of years babies and toddlers were entertained without the use of iPhones and iPads?
It can be done and it was done.
Please don’t rob your young child of the opportunity to learn to entertain themselves and embrace the world.
There is a time and place for everything, and their time for technology and devices will indeed eventually come.
There’s no rush. Teach them patience. Encourage your little kids to discover the real world in a real way.
Keep your devices out of their sight. Set a good example and don’t become addicted to screen time yourself.
And if your baby or toddler does cry or beg for it, there’s no better time than the present to learn this lesson: You don’t always get what you want.