The iPad Threat

My response to the article:

The iPad is a Far Bigger Threat to Our Children Than Anyone Realizes.


<<What happened next horrified me. The embarrassed mother found her iPad in her bag and thrust it into her daughter’s hands. Peace was restored immediately.>>

Good moms use the tools available. No spanking. No screaming. All those things that probably happened to US when we were growing up. One thing DOES stay the same: Criticisms of moms. They/we cannot catch a break!

<<This incident, which happened three years ago, was the first time I saw a tablet computer used as a pacifier. It certainly wasn’t the last. Since then, I’ve seen many tiny children barely able to toddle yet expertly swiping an iPad – not to mention countless teenagers, smartphone in hand, lost to the real world as they tap out texts.>>

They’re not “lost.” They’re engaged.

<<It’s ten years since the publication of my book, Toxic Childhood, which warned of the dangers of too much screen-time on young people’s physical and mental health. My fears have been realised. >>

A prophet! Gotta love that self-fulfilling prophecy she anticipated. But I don’t see it. Nor does the latest research.
Families and Screentime

<<Though I was one of the first to foresee how insidiously technology would penetrate youngsters’ lives, even I’ve been stunned at how quickly even the tiniest have become slaves to screens – and how utterly older ones are defined by their virtual personas.>>

So she’s still sticking with her doom and gloom.


<<Indeed, when my book came out, Facebook had just hit our shores and we were more concerned with violent video games and children watching too much TV. Seems like ancient history, doesn’t it?>>

And that didn’t pan out either.

<< Today, on average, children spend five to six hours a day staring at screens. And they’re often on two or more screens at once – for example, watching TV while playing on an iPad.>>

And so are the adults. It is the wave of the future. There is no going backwards now.
Here’s one of the reasons that’s not a bad thing:  Screentime

<<Because technology moves so fast, and children have embraced it so quickly, it’s been difficult for parents to control it. And when it comes to spending a childhood in front of a screen, this generation are like lab rats. The long-term impact is not known.>>

“Controlling it” isn’t the answer. Learning to use it, work with it, navigate around it, include/embrace it, seems more reasonable. Using terms like “lab-rats” is meant to push parents’ buttons.

<<Even before iPads hit the market in 2010, experts were warning that 80 per cent of children arrived at school with poor co-ordination, due to a sedentary lifestyle.>>

That’s not the fault of the technology. That came BECAUSE people like to be sedentary. Which is an entirely different issue. “Give me that iPad and go outside and play!” isn’t going to work.

<<Sue Palmer, above, believes that excessive screen time can lead to obesity, sleep disorders and aggression>>

These are only connected… not causal.
Obesity might have more to do with the prevalence of fast food and the need to hurry through the days. And also the lack of access (perceived or real) to physical activities that are engaging, fun, and easy to access.

Sleep disorders could be food-related, but also stress-related. And for the majority of kids, it’s caused by the hours of school-time and the ignoring of research about the sleep needs of children.

Aggression, we were wrong about TV and videogames causing this. Maybe we all need to look deeper. Ignoring the true needs of children and manipulating them to do what the adults want to make things run more smoothly… maybe that’s what’s making them mad.

<<Along with colleagues in the field of child development, I’d seen a rise in prescriptions for Ritalin, a drug for attention deficit and hyperactivity – a four-fold increase in less than a decade.>>

And this trajectory started before iPad prevalence. Still the true needs of children are ignored and compliance is the most desired outcome.

<< And we’d collected a mass of research showing links between excessive screen-time and obesity, sleep disorders, aggression, poor social skills, depression and academic under-achievement.>>

I question the validity of these studies.

<<It’s little wonder, then, that the boom in iPads and smartphones has coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages. Sadly, we’re seeing the rise of the ‘techno-tot’ for whom iPads have become the modern-day equivalent of a comfort blanket.>>

I would agree that adult engagement would be better. But it’s far from mind-numbing. These kids are being given access to tons of information and knowledge.

<<Recent research found 10 per cent of children under four are put to bed with a tablet computer to play with as they fall asleep. One study of families owning them found a third of children under three had their own tablets. Baby shops even sell ‘apptivity seats’ into which a tablet can be slotted to keep toddlers entertained.>>

Why is the research not on parental disengagement?

Speaking from personal experience (since my kids are in their 20’s we were still in society’s anti-tv wave at the time…which we ignored), my nearly 3 year grandson uses iPads that are in his house and ours. We have apps loaded that he enjoys and he has started to learn how to use YouTube. But he is equally happy with reading books before bed. Or playing with HotWheels. Or talking with stuffed animals. The iPad is simply one of the many options he has available.

<<Few know that the late Apple boss Steve Jobs didn’t let his own children have iPads. I wish he had gone public on this as other parents might have followed suit.>>

Times were different then. I do not believe he would have continued with that perspective.

<<Because the earlier children are hooked on screens, the more difficult it is to wean them off.>>

They’re not PHYSICALLY addicted. This is simply untrue and an attempt to provoke fear.

<<This is not the only worry. It’s not just what children get up to onscreen that affects their overall development. It’s what screens displace – all the activities they’re not doing in the real world. Today’s children have far fewer opportunities for what I call ‘real play’. They are no longer learning through first-hand experiences how to be human and are much less likely to play or socialize outdoors or with others.>>

This is a chicken/egg argument. And it also glamorizes the past as something that we should all long to return to. Also, the opportunity to interact with others has increased exponentially with technology! Kids are not immune to this advantage. Does it mean that parents may have to parent differently to help them navigate? Sure! But that just happens with societal progress.

<<One of the most depressing examples of a totally screen-based childhood involved a ten-year-old in London. The overweight, pasty-faced little lad told me: ‘I sit in my room and I watch my telly and play on my computer . . . and if I get hungry I text down to my mum and she brings me up a pizza.’ The change in children’s play has happened in little more than a couple of decades. While many parents feel uneasy about all that screen-time, they haven’t tackled it as they’ve been so busy keeping up with changes in their own lives.>>

So instead of figuring it all out… just take technology away from the kids and stick our heads in the sand? Or into Facebook?

<<But real play is a biological necessity. One psychologist told me it was ‘as vital for healthy development as food or sleep’.>>

Then it’s up to parents to find opportunities to play that the child also enjoys, resisting the urge to demonize the technology.

<<If the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses aren’t developed in early childhood, it’s difficult to revive them later. A whole generation could grow up without the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships – all because of endless screen-time.>>

But this isn’t what’s happening. Children ARE being very creative because of the technology they’ve accessed.

<<It’s getting out and about – running, climbing, making dens and so on – that allows little children to gain physical skills. Playing ‘let’s pretend’ is a creative process requiring lots of personal input.>>

Using my own grandson as an example – we do this too. He is currently in the hall closet talking to stuffed animals, playing with slime, under the light of a flashlight. And his PawPaw has just joined him in there! Kids need access to multiple different opportunities to play. One is not better than the other. His tech skills at being able to access the apps he likes and scroll away for videos he doesn’t like is nothing short of amazing. It’s not a skill I would want to downplay.

<<Real play develops initiative, problem-solving skills and many other positive traits, such as a can-do attitude, perseverance and emotional resilience. It’s vital for social skills, too. By playing together, youngsters learn to get along with other people. They discover how others’ minds work, developing empathy. And, as real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, it provides the foundation for academic learning. Real play is evolution’s way of helping children develop minds of their own – curious, problem- solving, adaptable, human minds.>>

Good word choices: Curious, problem-solving, adaptable. These are ALSO learned through technology. They’re not mutually exclusive.

<<Babies are born with an intense desire to learn about their world, so they’re highly motivated to interact with people and objects around them – the beginning of real play. That’s why they love it when we play silly games with them, such as peekaboo, or they manage to grasp some household object. This is what helps them develop physical co-ordination and social skills.>>


<<But when little ones can get instant rewards from high-tech devices, they don’t need to bother with real play. Images on a screen can be just as fascinating as the real world, and even a very small child can learn to control the images with a clumsy swish of podgy fingers.>>

Children still like real play. They don’t avoid it because they have access to technology.

<<Each time babies or toddlers make something happen on screen, they get the same sort of pleasure hit as they would from a cuddle or a splash in the bath. When they can get instant rewards by swiping a screen, why bother with play that demands physical, social and cognitive effort?>>

This isn’t accurate. Babies still like cuddles and bathtime!

<<Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says: ‘We cannot park our children in front of screens and expect them to develop a long attention span.’>>

No one should be “parking” anyone anywhere.

<<She also worries about the effects of technology on literacy. ‘Learning to read helps children learn to put ideas into logical order,’ she says. ‘On the other hand, staring at a screen puts their brains into suspended animation.’>>

Also not accurate. And many families report that their child learned to read BECAUSE of their interest in communicating within their chosen technology.

<<‘Unlike screen images, words don’t move, make noises, sing or dance. Ultimately, screen images render the printed word simply boring at a crucial phase when the child’s mind is developing,’ he says.>>

While I agree that videos are often more enticing than the written word, that doesn’t mean that they’re learning less if they see something instead of reading. Actually, it would make sense that more knowledge is gained because of the ability to move forward with the topic – as opposed to being limited by the reading ability.

<<Yet another problem with too much screen-gazing is that it doesn’t develop resilience.>>

No. Ask any mom whose kids has thrown the controller! Kids get the opportunity to learn how to cope with setbacks, as well as chances to learn how to problem solve and use critical thinking skills for the next time that obstacle is encountered.

<<Real play gives children opportunities to learn how to cope with challenges for themselves. Finding how to learn from their mistakes, picking themselves up when they take a tumble and sorting out squabbles with playmates all help develop the self-confidence that makes children more emotionally resilient.>>

Kids do this with computer games too.

<<This is vital for mental health, especially in our high-pressure world. So I wasn’t surprised when this month Childline warned Britain is producing deeply unhappy youngsters – sad, lonely, with low self-esteem and an increasing predilection to self-harm. The charity painted a bleak portrait of our children’s emotional state, blaming their unhappiness on social networking and cyber-bullying.>>

Sure… blame the phones! Couldn’t be the parental creativity and engagement, could it?
<<It’s understandable parents feel unable to tackle their children’s social media use. After all, it has spread like a virus. In 2012, just six years after Facebook arrived here, it was the favourite website of ten-year-old girls.>>

Not a virus. Same was said about books though…


<<That year I interviewed three 15-year-old girls in Yorkshire who have been on Facebook since the age of ten. They said they didn’t enjoy it as much as ‘when we were young’ because ‘running our own PR campaigns’ – as they wittily described the constant need to make their lives sound glamorous and exciting – was exhausting and they often felt miserable when others seemed to be having more fun.>>

Learning how to deal with a peer environment DOES take some help. That’s what parents can be there for too.

<<But they couldn’t give up the social media site as it would put them out of the social loop. ‘There’s lots of cyber-bullying,’ one said. ‘So you’ve got to try to be like everyone else.’>>

Help with the navigating… help with them learning to trust themselves…. help with them learning how to stand up to bullies.

<<But we can’t go on letting our children ‘be like everyone else’ when it’s damaging them. If the next generation is to grow up bright, balanced and healthy enough to use technology wisely, parents need to take action. And that means limiting screen-time, spending time together as a family and making sure get children out to play.Some say children need to use technology because that’s the way the world is going. But there’s no need to give little children high-tech devices.>>

Parents DO need to take action. But not the action this author is recommending. Arbitrary limits on something a child enjoys does not improve the family time together. It becomes an obstacle. Would a family do well to make sure lots of choices are on the child’s buffet of play options? Of course. And one of the biggest is to remain engaged and inquisitive with what their child is finding interesting. This improves the relationship and actually increases the likelihood that the child will try another option at the suggestion of the parent – because they’re connected in a way that makes them trusted. (as opposed to someone who is just looking for a way to disentangle them from their technology. They’re all on the same team!

<<Modern technology develops at a phenomenal rate – any IT skills that children learn before the age of seven will be long past their sell-by date by the time they reach their teens.But self-confidence, emotional resilience, creative thinking, social skills and the capacity for focused thought will stand them in good stead whatever the future brings.>>

But this year’s IT skills are the onramp to next year’s… and on and on.

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