It can teach, occupy, liberate. It can also limit, isolate and transform your bouncing baby into a zombie. But his connection with your computer can’t be that bad, surely...
With a tap of a sticky finger on a tablet, our kids are transported into a dazzling digital world. And, for us, the results are equally magical. There’s suddenly a window to cook, tidy and have a shower without the risk of interruptions.
A recent survey revealed half of all parents allow their babies to play with a smartphone or tablet, and one in seven let them use the devices for four or more hours a day. As newcomers to this tech ourselves, it’s hard not to feel a stab of pride when your toddler (who can’t take himself off to the loo, let alone use a knife and fork) navigates around your iPad more proficiently than you can.
But we also feel uneasy about the sneaky way the digital universe is taking over the real world.
HOW BAD CAN IT BE?
Many of us feel guilty about how screen time gets us through rainy weekends, and it can feel like this is yet another stick for modern mums to beat ourselves with. But is it really that awful? ‘As with all tech, there are good things and bad things about tablets,’ says Dr Nicola Yuill, who heads up the University of Sussex’s Chat Lab, which aims to understand how technology can help children.
‘They’re an accessible way for children to use technology, but I do understand concerns about their isolating nature.’ But there’s a difference between a one year old who’s spending all his time on Mum’s phone and a preschooler using an educational app.
A recent survey revealed half of all parents allow their babies to play with a tablet or phone
Either way,the best way to make use of technology is to do it together. Designed for a shared experience, Nicola is impressed by digital books. ‘Parents can interact with their child to bring the story to life, so you can talk about it what you see.’
But where does that leave that precious chunk of time when you install your child on the sofa with their favourite app and peg it? Fact is, it’s fine to make yourself a cuppa, so long as you pop back and join in, as this kind of parental contribution can boost the benefits of technology.
DO IT RIGHT
But there is a note of caution. ‘Children develop the concentration they need for learning through creative play and, if these devices drown that out, then that’s potentially a problem,’ says educational psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen. ‘Playing on the iPad inevitably comes at the expense of other activities, such as drawing.’ It’s all to do with brain development, particularly during your baby’s first two years.
However, there’s no harm in some screen time. ‘Playing a phonics app, for example, is more interactive than watching TV, which is a passive activity,’ says Nicola. And, if your toddler’s always peering up at his older sister’s screen, you don’t have to feel more guilt. ‘Sitting alongside a sibling means the children are interacting,’ she says. ‘That’s why shared games are a great idea.’
And take into account what else you’ve done that day. Spent time at the park? Hung out with friends? Then 20 mins of tablet time isn’t a bad thing. Deep down, we all know that leaving a toddler to it with games on an iPad isn’t the best parenting move.
Accepting that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace what screens have to offer. ‘You just have to listen to that voice that tells you when it’s time to turn off,’ says Kairen. ‘Make the alternative attractive, something you know your child will enjoy, such as painting or reading, then make sure you act on it.’ Even if it provokes an almighty meltdown.