My daughter, Gillian, is only a few months older than Apple’s iPad, which was launched a little over five years ago. I feel that she is truly a child of the digital age: Wi-Fi and screens are everywhere you turn. She often tells me that using an iPad is one of her favourite things to do in her kindergarten classroom, and some of her friends have a tablet of their own. But, despite how affordable and accessible handheld screens are, my husband and I steadfastly refuse to give in to her requests to buy one and have made it clear that our own smartphones are not toys for her or her eight-year-old brother.
My strict rules on screen time aren’t for everyone, but the 30 minutes a day I allow each kid to watch TV or play video games is the same amount they’ve had since they were babies. Surprising research from the Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, presented at the 2015 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, proves that I’m in the minority when it comes to keeping smartphones and tablets out of my kids’ hands.
Between October and November last year, researchers asked 370 parents how they integrate smartphones and tablets into their kids’ lives. They discovered that handheld technology is often being used as a pacifier, with 65 percent of parents saying they’ve given smartphones or tablets to their children to help them calm down and 73 percent of parents saying that giving gadgets to their kids helps them get work done around the house.
What I found alarming was smartphone use by babies: Thirty-six percent of babies less than 12 months old had touched a smartphone, 24 percent had called someone and 12 percent had played a video game. Researchers also found that by the time a child turned one, 14 percent were playing with a tablet or smartphone for an hour each day and 29 percent were using them to fall asleep at night. Only 30 percent of parents said they’ve talked to their doctors about their kids’ media consumption.
As a self-confessed, knuckle-dragging late adopter (I didn’t have my own smartphone until 2011), I find these research statistics concerning. At 12 months old, everything babies see and touch in the natural world is brand new to them—an experience that can’t be replaced with a tablet or smartphone, no matter how educational an app is. I credit much of my daughter’s fearlessness and love of the outdoors to the fact that she was mostly screen-free for the first year of her life. And, despite the resistance I get from her to watch more TV or install a game on my phone for her to play with, my answer will always be no.
After all, the damaging effects of letting children sleep with screens and the links between poor social skills and screen time are already known, which should put the price of propping a tablet in front of your baby at bedtime or while grocery shopping in perspective. For me, there’s always an alternative to a tantrum—and it’s not a tablet.
Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.