We all do it. When we are feeling harassed and the kids are driving us nuts we dish out the iPads in an attempt to keep them quiet and distracted. It’s the ultimate babysitter and a useful negotiating tool as the mere utterance of a threat to destroy/sell/remove the iPad causes extreme panic and palpitations. Heck, my kids would drink toilet water if it meant they could have more screen time. It definitely makes life easier for parents but are kids and iPads really such a good idea? Are we risking the health and wellbeing of our children by being too lenient with our gadgets?
I’ve been to people’s homes where almost all of the kids there have been glued to their own personal iPads for the entire duration of the visit. There is no social interaction or interest whatsoever and the whole afternoon is spent gazing at a screen. It frustrates me as it inevitably means my own kids will end up peering over their shoulders watching them swipe left, right, up and down, mesmerised by the techno games. But what about real play? Running, climbing, making up games together? Exchanging ideas and resolving differences? All pretty critical social and emotional skills, none of which can be developed by sitting on a couch playing on the iPad or iPhone. We are living in an age where screen time is replacing real time activities and that is a worry.
Kids as young as two are addicted to the iPhone and it’s not easy to wean them off. Many experts suggest that too much screen time can lead to an inactive, unhealthy lifestyle (not ideal bearing in mind current rates of child obesity), sleep disorders and aggression. I’ve seen it myself. When my kids use the iPad for too long their behaviour definitely deteriorates. Not only do they ignore everything I say and refuse to follow instructions, they turn into raging, hysterical bulls when I try to prise the iPad away from them. The techno child can be a very angry child indeed.
Of course I try to convince myself that the iPad is a great educational tool but in all honesty my kids will play the Maths and English games for about ten minutes before switching to something less cerebral. There’s no doubt it can be an engaging way for a child to learn but it definitely needs to be monitored. Left to their own devices it will be hours of My Little Pony or Sonic the Hedgehog. Shudder. In fact, research from the University of Cambridge suggests too much screen time results in a fall in academic grades amongst 14-16 year olds. Yikes! How the hell is Flump going to become a world class brain surgeon and Ludoo the CEO of a multi-million dollar empire if I let them spend all day on the iPad???
I’m going to be bold/foolish and put it out there. I think allowing our kids to consistently overuse gadgets is lazy parenting. I’ve had days when I’ve let my two spend hours on the iPad and I’ve always felt horrendously guilty about it afterwards. It’s not ideal, although on occasion it has felt necessary for my mental wellbeing! I try to make sure it’s not a regular occurrence as these habits are difficult to break. For me, the key is parental control. As long as we limit the time spent in front of a screen (the US Department of Health recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for those over the age of two- this includes TV, computers, iPads and phones) there’s no reason it can’t be beneficial.
We live in a digital age where children are expected to be tech savvy but it’s a slippery slope towards becoming a tech addict. I’d rather my kids spend their time enjoying and learning from life in the real world than spend endless hours in a virtual world.