This morning, with my conscious mind still turned off, after a long night with my son vomiting, bedding changes at 1 a.m., automated me getting our 2-year-old ready for school, packing bananas, apples and water into the bag, dressing him and (as always at 6:15 a.m.) with the radio on in the background, my ears pick up this sentence that rattled me: “Screens are like smoking back in the sixties. We don’t know the long-term effects and no child under the age of 2 should be exposed to any computer screen…” The psychologist in question went on and rambled something about the dangers of iPads and, before long, how they function more as pacifiers and babysitters than anything else.
At that moment, I realized that I had forgotten to pack the iPad into my son’s bag. Ironic, isn’t it? Needless to say that iPhones, iPads and their Korean counterparts are all over the news today in our freezing country in the far north of Europe, and pedagogues, neurologists, psychologists and your typical always-have-an-opinion-if-faced-with-a-microphone celebrities pitching in with their views on the subject. The web is filled with articles on the subject today, and I even learned that you can be fined in Taiwan for allowing your child excess access to computer pads. Who knew?
As a father of a 2-year-old, I primarily worry about him and his development. For his first Christmas, we had bought him a Fisher-Price cover for our old and antiquated iPad. At the time, we saw it as a tool for him to practice his fine motor skills, help with his linguistic skills (contrary to what I heard this morning) and (I admit) keep him busy for short bits of time, such as when we were flying, riding our ferry or driving places where kids need to sit still. Sue us!
We discovered quickly, that by chance, accident or design, our little one (along with all other small kids I’ve seen) has a knack for using the GUI of such devices. We learned from our 9-month-old a whole new way to turn off apps. Who knew? The App store is filled to the brim with apps tailored to babies and toddlers, and we installed a few of them. Some were all about nursery rhymes and some were more focused on hand-eye coordination. Some were just to help him relax, and at the age of 18 months he discovered his first Disney feature “Tangled” (I’m happy he chose one with a female hero), a film I’ve since seen hundreds of times in bits and pieces and that even his grandpa purchased recently, so that he can watch it in the awful German version.
Bits and pieces are a crucial thing here, because Sascha, as great a kid as he may be, has little patience or shall I say endurance? Five minutes with his iPad and he tires and runs off to play with his toy cars, Old McDonald’s tractor complete with cow, pig, sheep and horse, happily singing a tune he’s picked up and memorized on YouTube, in one of the dozens of different versions there are.
My son loves his iPad, and yes, he does use it a lot, but not excessively, at least not as far as we’re concerned. He watches his Minions or Toy Story shorts on the boat, sitting still. While other kids cause a ruckus, and risk severe injuries should they fall, he loves to watch nursery rhymes on YouTube and sings along, often joined in by his dads. Six months ago I didn’t know a single nursery rhyme in English or Swedish, and my memories of my youth’s Alemannic songs was limited. Now I can join Sascha and sing with him, and we often sing in our house. He loves it, he dances to the tunes and as far as his linguistic development goes, well, as a linguist and pedagogue, I couldn’t be happier. Sascha is very articulate for a child who juggles three languages at the same time. He understands us in any of them at any given time, and he’ll respond in either English, Swedish, Alemannic or Sascha-speak (which are all the words we simply haven’t figured out yet…)
I can understand how pediatricians would worry about new tools for kids. I’m sure there were similar debates when Gutenberg had invented the printed book about the dangers of books to children’s eyes. In the end, as parents, we have to make sure to moderate and monitor their time, and make sure to balance the time with the screen with time to allow their eyes to focus on objects further afield. Will Sascha become shortsighted because of all this? I don’t know. Chances are he’d become shortsighted anyway, as I was at the age of 6. And in my book genes still trump the environment, at least in this regard.
We are not going to change the way Sascha uses his iPad, but we’ll monitor the time he spends with it, most likely decreasing that time as he gets older and is able to play outside on his own and discover other vital parts of our earthly existence, but not just because of some crazy debate that came out of nowhere. For us, this is a vital tool, helping us teach him skills we as parents don’t have (e.g., English nursery rhymes), it’s a tool that is also used at his preschool, and it is exactly what the name suggests, a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Properly used immensely valuable; abused, well, not so good. As I’ve browsed through some of the English articles on the subject online, written in the past three or so years, you get the impression that it’s all black and white, that there is only “all” or “nothing”. It’s up to us parents to find the middle ground that is just right for our kids, our specific circumstances.
I’d be curious to hear how you guys are handling this, and if you’ve had any feedback from others. We sometimes get the odd look on the ferry from other passengers, although most of the reactions are positive and they’re impressed with Sascha’s handle of a device they barely dare touch.