My 8-year-old daughter and I cruised through two chapter
books before she even considered asking for a screen of some sort while en
route from Boston to Los Angeles following the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bragging. Although I fly often, I really don’t like it,
and the thought of plugging my kids in from coast-to-coast is appealing. One less worry, or something like that.
And planes are really, really boring.
But I’ve taught them well, and they’ve taken my lessons on screen time to
heart. Sigh. So screen time is time limited, as it should
The truth is that flying is easier now that my kids are a
little older. We color. We read. We make up silly stories. We try
to figure out where we are by looking out the window. It’s still long and boring, but they know the
drill. Board the plane, sit for six
hours, land in Boston. It’s doable.
It felt less doable when they were toddlers, though somehow we managed to just get through it. I will never forget the day the mom on the back of the plane introduced
me to the cake maker game on the iPhone. Add ingredients, mix, bake, decorate and “eat” your own cake.
Hooray for toddler distractions!
Here’s the catch: sometimes distractions are necessary. A long flight involving ear pain and sitting through endless turbulence
counts. So do excessive waits at the pediatrician’s
office and never-ending car rides. But
not every wait or every moment of boredom or every hint of a temper-tantrum qualifies
as an appropriate time to hand over your iPad to placate your toddler.
Toddler distraction by way of tablets seems to be the new
norm in the world of parenting, and this can negatively impact child
According to the latest Neilsen survey,
70 percent of tablet-owning households admit that children under the age of 12 use the
device. Seventy-seven percent of those kids are using the
tablets to play downloaded games, where only 57 percent are using them for educational
purposes. Forty-one percent use them to remain
entertained while at a restaurant or during an event, and only 15 percent use them to
communicate with friends or family.
Week after week, I see toddlers using iPads and iPhones
during Sunday mass. It’s sad,
really. If we can’t even unplug our
children to come together as a community for one hour each week, how can we possibly
teach them to regulate their emotions as they grow?
Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine warn
that tablet use for toddlers can negatively impact social and emotional
development. In a study
published in "Pediatrics," the
researchers expressed concern that technology use could interfere with the
development of empathy and problem-solving skills.
Before you chalk this latest study up to yet another call
for “everything in moderation,” ask yourself this: have you ever kept a chart to log exactly how many minutes your toddler
spends using a tablet or handheld device? Have you tracked the moments that cause you to hand over the technology? You might find that the minutes add up
quickly. It’s easy to lose track of time
spent glued to a screen.
Still not convinced? Check out these five reasons to stop relying on screens for distraction:
1. Empathy doesn’t exist
on a screen
Children learn how to relate with others by interacting with
others. Parent and sibling relationships
provide lessons in empathy, kindness and caring for others. There isn’t an app on the market that can
make up for the lessons learned when children play and interact with their
2. The instant
You can’t teach patience by handing over a fun game the
moment life gets boring. Toddlers are
experts when it comes to making something out of nothing. Go ahead, bring home a new toy and a
cardboard box tomorrow. I think you’ll
find that the box is more entertaining.
Life isn’t always fun, but we can create our own fun to pass
the time. That’s an important lesson for
young children. Instant gratification is
a downward spiral. Left unchecked, it
will lead to increased tantrums and frustration.
Too much screen time can lead to headaches, fatigue, eye-strain, anxiety and even symptoms of depression. Is that what we want for our children?
3. Social skills require
It’s no big secret that toddlers are big on parallel play,
but they learn from one another even when they are playing next to one
another. Have you ever watched two
toddlers playing side-by-side? They peek
over at each other to see what the other is up to. They trade toys and tools back and
forth. Sometimes they cry when they
regret a trade.
These are the seeds that will emerge into advanced social
skills as kids grow. They need
interaction with other humans to develop their social interaction skills.
4. Free play is the best
teaching tool around
Playing a game on a device does not fall under the heading
of “free play.” Believe it or not, I’ve
heard arguments that it does countless times. The game sets the rules, provides the structure and determines whether
you win or lose. There’s no freedom in
Free play is the best way for children to learn. Through play, children learn to relate to
others, problem-solve and cope with disappointment. They also work on language development, fine
and gross motor skills and early literacy and mathematical skills.
5. Brain drain is real
You know that feeling you get when you’ve been glued to your
screen for way too long and you just want to collapse? Kids get that, too. The problem is that they don’t know how to
cope or how to self-regulate, so they keep on playing until they scream and cry
and throw a massive tantrum.