19 May 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
In my previous entry, I revealed that we were teaching Coco to read through the use of an early learning programme that runs on the iPad. We’re on Day 17 of the lesson plan and while it’s way too early to tell whether Coco is indeed absorbing and recognising the words that she’s being shown, it’s clear that she enjoys the lessons and is paying close attention to what is being played on the screen.
While we are keen to take advantage of what technology has to offer as an educational tool, the niggling thoughts of “Are iPads okay for babies as young as 8 months? Will the iPad damage my baby?” are always at the back of my mind.
Just a couple of days ago, I came across a link on Facebook on whether it is okay to let your toddler play with the iPad. The writer had extended the recommendation by the Academy of American Pediatricians against exposure to television for babies under two years of age to the use of iPads. While exposure to TV is not a concern for us (the family hardly watches TV and even if we do, it’s usually only after we put the baby to bed – purely for our convenience and enjoyment of the programme), the article alone is enough to convince parents that iPads for babies is a bad BAD thing. (If you do read the article, make sure you read the readers’ comments and the writer’s replies as well for completeness.)
I decided to do my own research and came across a more balanced view on iPad usage for children under the age of two years. Televisions and iPads are essentially different and there is simply no available data to suggest that screen time on an iPad is equally bad for babies as screen time from a TV.
I think it all boils down to HOW you are using the iPad and WHAT you are showing the kids on it. The key to moderating the use of media and gadgets is to set down some house rules to guide usage. The following guidelines are what Dan and I have agreed on on the use of iPads within our household:
(1) The iPad is only to be used twice a day
We conduct reading lessons for Coco every morning after she has her morning milk feed and in the evening after her bath. Otherwise, the iPad does not make an appearance outside of these times. This is not an easy task given the proliferation of gadgets within the family. Everybody else is discouraged from flipping on THEIR iPad as and when they feel like entertaining the baby.
(2) iPad content must promote interaction
We don’t just leave Coco to sit alone in front of the iPad and stare at the images on the screen. The Little Reader programme encourages interaction by posing questions such as, “Hair. Where is your hair?” and “Chin. Can you touch your chin?”. We sit by Coco’s side and prompt her to respond by showing her how to touch the parts of the body that she is being taught. If we were to just run a cartoon on the iPad to keep her occupied while we busied ourselves with our own thing, it would be no different from leaving her to space out in front of the TV.
(3) Content must be screened
This goes without saying. While we have downloaded a few free apps that are supposedly suitable for babies and young children, we haven’t shown Coco most of the programmes on the list as we haven’t seen them for ourselves. We learnt to be extra vigilant in screening content when we decided to just run the story of The Princess And The Pea for Coco one day. As harmless as it sounded and as I remembered the story to be, I was quite horrified that it told of a prince who rejected a string of potential candidates to take as his wife for the most superficial of reasons such as, “her feet were too big”, “her hair was too long” and “she was too tall”. I don’t want Coco to come home crying one day because she thinks she’s not pretty enough for any guy!
(4) Lead by example
I saw a child about four or five years old at the cafe where we were having lunch today. The girl had an iPad propped in front of her and was engrossed in playing with it throughout the entire meal. Her mother was spooning food into the child’s mouth.
We’re quite adamant that this will not be a scene from our lives. Since I was young, my parents have enforced a strict no-TV rule during meal times. We had to switch off the TV and turn up at the dinner table when summoned, and converse and interact as a family until we cleared our plates from the table. Now, with Coco at the table, the same applies to the use of handphones and iPads at the dinner table. Dan grumbled a bit at not being allowed to read e-books on his iPad or make his move on Scrabble on his iPhone, but unless we lead by example, we can’t expect our child to respect the rules that we have set for her.
(5) There is life beyond the iPad
Each Little Reader lesson runs for about five minutes. Even with the twice daily lessons and some extra time for free play on the iPad, Coco’s daily screen time totals at only 20 minutes per day. With another 23 hours and 40 minutes in a day, there is plenty of time for her to do the other things that babies her age are suppose to do: sleep, nap, feed, interact with people and play.
On any given day at home, there are minimally SEVEN people who talk and play with Coco in English and Mandarin. On days that everyone is home, the number goes up to TEN. We really aren’t worried that the 20 minutes spent on the iPad are robbing her of real-life human interaction.
She rolls balls, goes out for daily walks around the neighbourhood, touches grass and leaves in the garden and is shown real fish in the pond. Before we showed her the electronic keyboard on the iPad, we repeatedly carried her up to a real piano so that she could tinkle (okay, bang) on the black and white keys. This is so that she, like how the second article points out, can learn “how the real world works” beyond how it is portrayed on the iPad.
We read to her daily and specially look out for books that offers experiences and activities that the iPad cannot. For example, ‘lift-the-flap’ board books from the Maisy and Dear Zoo series, and tactile books (furry, shiny, sparkly, bumpy, soft, etc.) from the Baby Touch series by Ladybird Books (I highly recommend www.bookdepository.com for its wide range of baby books, affordable prices and free shipping to Singapore.)
So that’s where we are for now with regard to introducing the iPad to our baby. Our house rules may change with time as our child grows and technology changes – whether for the better or the worse. She’s too young to whine for the iPad now and to throw tantrums when she doesn’t get what she demands. I guess we just have to be vigilant enough to understand how such usage is affecting her development and be flexible in changing the guidelines to ensure that the iPad (and other gadgets) remain a beneficial tool, rather than a detriment.
(This entry, by the way, is my last post for May. We’re off to the Maldives next week for a family holiday. Woo hoo! We’ll catch up again in June!)