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Should an infant be using an iPad?

The medical community firmly states no. The public, however, is increasing saying yes. Content producers are creating apps, games, and TV programming specifically targeting the 0-2 demographic. Something has got to give.

The American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) has stated:

“Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” 

If the AAP was chiming a warning bell, it got lost with all the other pinging, ringing, and dinging that forms a cacophony of noise around us. A recent New York Times article, “New Milestone Emerges: Baby’s First iPhone App,” makes clear that there is a large disconnect between recommendations and reality. A new study by Common Sense Media points out that 38% of children in the 0-2 age group now use mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones.

Is an iPad for a toddler a toy or educational tool? The more parents consider it an educational tool, the more apt they are to allow their toddler screen time. Also, how active do we consider a toddler who is using an iPad? Parents are increasingly making a distinction between the passive-nature of television-watching versus the perceived interactive-nature of using a touch-screen.

The concern is that children under the age of two undergo a massive amount of brain development that may be adversely impacted by exposure to screens. Does giving an iPad adversely affect their social skills along with reducing their attention levels? That’s the million dollar question that’s being debated from scientific forums to parenting groups.

It is easy to fall into the “Hey, this is educational!” trap. It is visually impressive to see a toddler swipe a smartphone. We may imagine the diaper-clad multitasker as a mini Zuckerberg or Sandberg. However, it is long established that toddlers benefit most from human interactivity and solo play time where their brain can wander. The 0-2 set do not learn the same way adults learn.

Baby Einstein videos are a case in point. A lot of parents buy the DVDs with the hope that it is beneficial to their baby’s intellectual development. In 2009 Disney, the owner of the franchise, removed any mention of “educational” from their advertising and reached a settlement to offer earlier purchasers a refund. It is interesting to note that the actual Einstein was notorious for daydreaming by staring out windows for hours at a time. Would Einstein have become Einstein if he grew up with Baby Einstein?

Of course, many parents are happily giving their toddlers iPads. In a development that is both slightly amusing and slightly creepy, the use of iPads and iPhones by toddlers is starting to alter how that child views fixed mediums like a book.  There are multiple videos of frustrated little ones tapping and swiping at books. Is this a harmless sight gag or the dangerous hard-wiring of the next generation?

We assume that the most tech-savvy parents will want the most tech-savvy children, but that is not always the situation. Many of the parents out in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of tech, send their children to schools without a heavy emphasis on using technology in the classroom. Many of the people saturated in tech understand the time and place for tech.  

The point is that our focus should be on raising children with the greatest amount of social skills, motor skills, cognitive function, and attention levels. Baby tech wizardry may give us the illusion of raising geniuses, but it might just be that—an illusion.