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The iPad: Yet Another Tool to Make Parents Feel Guilty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Atlantic just came out with an article called The Touch-Screen Generation about the encroaching influence of digital technology on young children, including toddlers, and whether apps rot kids’ brains or make them smarter.

This is an issue I think about every day.

No sooner do I pick up June from Montessori — literally before her coat is on and we’ve walked outside the door — does she start asking, begging, beseeching for screen time: “Mickey? Mickey Mickey?”

A month ago, she was obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally Appisode, an interactive cartoon for the iPad in which kids make choices to complete a series of challenges. I like the game because it teaches problem solving, cause and effect, and unlike a television show, it’s interactive; the challenges cannot be completed without June’s participation. Contingent interaction can be a significant source of learning for even very young children, according to research in The Atlantic article.

Yet this does little to assuage my embarrassment before her Montessori teachers. Montessori, as far as I know, comes down on the side of severe screen time restrictions. “Maybe,” I say to June, while her teachers look on. “Maybe you can watch Mickey when we get home…but only if you’re really good!”

When we get home I’m faced with a choice: Do I let June play Road Rally for 30 minutes while I prepare dinner? Or do I not let her play and hope she finds amusement with blocks and toys and doesn’t fuss at my feet while I try to cook?

The iPad usually wins out. While I prepare dinner, I find myself trying to rationalize my decision to let her play. What’s 30 minutes? It’s not like her brain will ooze out of her ear in such a short burst of time. And we don’t have cable television, so June has never been exposed to advertising or programs centering around snappy, materialistic princess tweens. What in the grand scheme of things is the problem?

But then Jake arrives home from work and calls out her name to come say hello to him. More than half the time, June doesn’t look up. She doesn’t hear him at all. She is gone, totally gone, transported to a Zombie-like state that The Atlantic piece describes as an all too common side effect of screen time. Jake and I both find this extremely annoying so we take the iPad away from her, which usually results in tears.

Is it possible for a two year old to become obsessed by the iPad?

But then something happened that Hanna Rosin (the writer of The Atlantic story) described as having happened to her. June suddenly got sick of the iPad. “The iPad fell out of rotation,” Rosin writes, “Just like every other toy does.” Like Rosin’s son, June moved on to other toys, namely blocks and books, those charming relics of the past. It made me realize that maybe I ought to give June a little more credit for her recreation preferences. Granted, I do what I can to not encourage a digital fixation — I haven’t downloaded a new app for her in months — but there’s comfort knowing she herself isn’t interested in becoming a zombie.

Not yet, anyway.

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