27 November 2012, by Mandy Loh

Parenting in the digital labyrinth

I decided to take a break from blogging about the blighted ovum condition, because well, nothing much has developed so far. And meanwhile, life goes on.

I’ve been involved with a project with FLOW Summits (check them out at www.FLOWsummits.com) these last couple of weeks, which required me to read up on the issue of infants and toddlers growing up in the digital age. It’s been pretty enjoyable and enlightening, and has helped me crystallise my own opinions on the matter. Of course, as with many aspects of parenting, everyone is entitled to his or her own views, and this is just a sharing of mine.

It’s amazing how ubiquitous smart phones and other mobile devices have become within the last five years! As parents, we’re really caught in uncharted waters, as technology has advanced so fast that paediatricians and other experts have yet to be able to fully ascertain the effects and implications of exposing young children to interactive devices such as iPads.

So what’s a parent to do? Short of relocating to the nearest Amish village, I suppose we just have to figure out the right balance for ourselves. For many parents, that means carefully controlling their kids’ usage of media devices, ensuring age-appropriate content, and maintaining a good balance of physical activities in their day.

As mentioned previously in my post “Why we ban TV”, I’ve been subscribing to the American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) recommendation that children below the age of two have no screen time whatsoever. I’m proud to say that we’ve managed to keep it up so far, but we have decided to start letting Cristan watch short, 5-minute segments of educational videos at 18 months, instead of waiting for the 2-year mark. However, I’m still not so sure about allowing him to use interactive media such as iPads, because they are potentially much more addictive than TV, and I prefer to err on the side of caution for now.

The truth is, there are no straight answers out there, and one can find many articles espousing the benefits of iPads and learning apps, as well as numerous ones that warn about the downside. Personally, I’m more convinced about the latter, and here are some articles and quotes that had resonated with me:

1)     From an article by Psychology Today (Is it Okay to Let Your Toddler Play with the iPad?) “Why push babies to live in a digital desert when they can grow up in a much richer environment — the real world?”

It’s not just about iPads lacking textures, smells and tastes. The article asserts that the iPad is an impoverished medium for learning. So why use it, when simple interactions with grown-ups, or even unstructured free play, would provide more complex learning opportunities for babies and toddlers?

The same article also points out that screens are inherently interesting to us as humans, and especially to young children, because of the rapidly-changing colours, images and sounds, and instant gratification it provides (“I tap the screen, the pictures change immediately!”) And therein lies the potential danger of addiction, or a hardwiring of young minds for a preference for screens over real-life in future years.

2)     From ABC News (Parent Debate: Do iPads and Smartphones Really Teach Toddlers to Read?) “Just because you see a child apparently spelling by pushing a letter, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually know how to read and spell.”

I liked the little experiment the journalist had conducted on her own 3-year old twins, to assess the effectiveness of learning apps. At first, it seemed the twins were significantly learning. However, when she brought out flash cards with the very same words from the game, the kids did not know any of them.

As it turns out, the kids were merely recognising the shapes of the letters and matching them, just as they would do with a shape sorter. However, I do concede that in the experiment, the kids were playing unsupervised. It is possible that learning could take place when parents are actively involved with the child when the apps are used.

3)     From The Wall Street Journal (What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an iPad) “In many ways, the average toddler using an iPad is a guinea pig… There is little research on the impact of technology like this on kids…and unfortunately a lot of the real-life experimentation is going to be done by parents who now have young kids”.

I’m not ready to turn my son into a lab rat, thank you very much! Besides, he’s got a whole lifetime ahead of him to figure out how to use an iPad or surf the web, and I’m quite sure he’ll be able to catch on quickly enough. He’s not going to lose out that much just because his peers were navigating the iPad with aplomb when they were one.

Of course, my “extreme” position will change when our munchkin becomes a preschooler, because studies have shown that at that age, educational programmes and games would indeed be beneficial, and I would then happily allow him some regular screen time, at a moderate level.

When that time comes (in the not-too-distant future), I think the real challenge will be to discern how much screen time is “too much”, and how to actually switch off or remove the devices without him having massive tantrum meltdowns. Well, I guess when that happens, I’ll be reading up again!

If you’re a parent facing the same issues, questions and challenges, one quick way to get up to speed (without having to trawl the internet for research) is to check out this upcoming online summit. The kind folks at FLOW have even agreed to extend a special $50 discount for you, my lovely readers, since I’ve been helping out with some of the research. Just use the discount code ‘mandy’ when registering at www.FLOWsummits.com/registration.

A bit more about the summit:

The Global Parenting & New Media Summit brings together 12 experts in technology, teen culture and parenting to answer all your burning questions.

This event takes place entirely online, so you can take part no matter where you are. All you need is an Internet connection.

The event kicks off on November 30th, and you can log in ‘live’ or catch up anytime—perfect for busy people.

No more excuses! Get your upgrade here: www.FLOWsummits.com

Posted on : November 27, 2012

Filed under : Uncategorized

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