A recent article on HuffPo slammed the use of hand-held devices for kids and called for a complete ban. The article was sensationalist, and has been called out by a number of other authors, including in this very balanced reply. Here are my thoughts, as a mother, re the debate about “whether iPads are evil”.
These new digital tools are simply that – a tool. They encourage sedentary behaviour, yes. Does this lead to obesity? In some cases, yes, but in most cases, I believe they don’t encourage obesity inasmuch as reading books does or drawing does. If a child sits and draws or colours or does homework for hours, everyone praises her and says “What a good child!” but if that child is seen to be using a digital device, it’s automatically branded as a terrible thing.
One caveat here – I believe that developing motor skills is essential, and touchscreen use needs to be balanced with developing pencil skills, learning to throw a ball, generally running and climbing etc. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mummy doctor brain I remember reading or hearing something about how these skills enhance literacy. So, limiting motor skills to wiggling your index finger around a touchscreen is not a great thing.
But, as the reply I have posted points out, the majority of families use iPads wisely, and children don’t spend all day with them. Children still enjoy using crayons, running around a playground, and reading physical books.
Technology bring a wide variety of positive experiences to families, including playing interactive games (such as the fantastic ones by Toca Boca like Toca Tea Party), learning the alphabet, learning how to read, laughing over YouTube videos of cats on Roombas together (something my four-year-old and I really enjoy doing). We also use technology as a learning tool. If our preschooler suddenly shows an interest in the solar system, for example, we’ll talk about the planets, find amazing websites for children that explain the solar system, and watch the YouTube video of the Solar System song. To facilitate this experience without technology, we would have to remember that she is interested in the solar system, make a trip to the library, and take home a few books about the planets which are probably out of date. Which of course is a very fine thing, and we still do visit libraries regularly, but my point is that learning can be enhanced with technology if used in the right ways.
Digital tools and technology are here to stay. Adults are at a disadvantage currently if they are not tech-literate, in terms of employment options. Learning how to navigate the new digital world and use the tools that technology provides is essential for children. We aren’t going back to the days of horse and cart and homing pigeons, ever. It’s a fact. But when I go to playgrounds, I still see loads of children running around, and parents enjoying the sunshine. All is not lost. Let’s use our own judgement here, and use our tools wisely.
Addendum. The author discloses no financial interests in Apple or any tech companies. Her children have inherited their “own” iPad, but this often sees weeks of disuse, although she admits to resorting to the use of Toca Band during long plane flights and tetchy moments in restaurants when the four-year-old is eating painfully slowly and the toddler wants to throw all the crockery on the floor.