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Does Your Baby Need an iPad?

I was out for dinner with my family last Friday and we were sitting next to a family whose little girl was absolutely glued to her iPad the entire time we were there.
As we were walking out the door, my oldest said to me, “What’s the point in going out for dinner if you’re just going to watch a movie?”

Now, I’m not judging. I don’t know anything about this girl, so maybe there’s a perfectly legitimate reason why her parents are okay with her watching TV while they’re out for dinner. For my family though, there are absolutely no screens allowed at the table.

It’s a little surprising to me that we’ve gotten to a point where we actually need a rule to prevent watching videos while you’re having dinner together, but that just goes to show how deeply these devices have ingrained themselves into our lives.

Obviously, nobody actually needs an iPad. We seem to have gotten along alright without them for thousands of years, so they’re obviously not a requirement.
We’re parents though, so we’re never okay with providing the minimum basic requirements. We want our kids to have every opportunity to thrive, grow strong, be smart, be successful, and we’re always on the lookout for whatever advantages we can give them to help them along.

As with any new technology, the software developers are quick to target kids, and they target their parents as well, by claiming that their product “aids development” or “stimulates mental ontogeny” or some such thing. Then, about six months after the craze hits, we’re told it’s all a bunch of nonsense. Remember those Baby Einstein DVDs?

But iPads and tablets are a lot more than just Beethoven and shapes. They provide engaging, interactive learning challenges that kids seem to genuinely enjoy. What could be wrong with that?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s not that simple. They have two recommendations when it comes to kids and screen time.

One was that kids over 2 years of age should be limited to 2 hours a day.

The other was that kids under the age of 2 should be limited to… zero.

None. No screen time whatsoever.

To many of us who have grown to love our iPads, and have found them to be so vital, informative, and helpful in our day-to-day lives, that’s bordering on blasphemy.
Last October, in an article for Acta Paediatrica, Dr. Victor Strasburger, one of the committee members who made the recommendations explained the complicated reasoning behind them.

Limiting kids over 2 years old to less than 2 hours of screen time wasn’t too difficult to explain, given that a massive study out of New Zealand had shown, “…screen time for young children is a direct and potentially causal factor in childhood, adolescent and even adult obesity.”

Which is totally understandable. Screen time is sedentary time, so no surprise that kids who are sitting down watching tv or playing games are not getting enough exercise.. But what about kids under two years? Why would watching an iPad be worse for them than just sitting in their Rock & Play? Neither one seems all that physically demanding.

This is where the whole conversation gets really interesting.

Strasburger cites a study where 9 month old American babies were taught Mandarin Chinese. One group was taught in person, and the other over a monitor. “In both experiments, the Mandarin speakers looked directly at the babies and used ‘infant-directed speech’,” he said. “Live Mandarin speakers were successful; videotaped Mandarin speakers were not. The difference between experiments was the social factor.”

Okay, but that’s different than using a touch screen. Tablets are customizable, they can increase or decrease the level of complexity, and most importantly, they’re interactive. Baby does something and the tablet responds, so that’s a game-changer, right?

Once again, it all depends on the parent’s presence. “A study of 15-month-olds found that when their parents talked about what they were seeing and doing on a touch screen,” Strasburger said, “the toddlers were 22 times more likely to transfer learning from the device to a real object.”

Yup, just like you probably knew in your heart of hearts, what your baby needs in order to learn, to thrive, grow strong, be smart and successful, is time spent with you. Whether you’re playing on an expensive piece of technology, reading from a picture book, or adventuring in the backyard, the biggest advantage you can give your baby is your attention.

So could your baby benefit from an iPad? Well, that all seems to depend on how you use it. If you’re sitting with her, helping her learn, then interactive, educational games can be great learning tools. Their bright colors, cute animations and cheerful music are a wonderful way to keep baby engaged as you teach her about colors, letters, shapes, and animals.

In short, iPads are fantastic learning tools. They’re just terrible babysitters.

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Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
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