Why you should care
We don’t know the benefits of screen time for youngsters, but we sure know the drawbacks. My kid isn’t getting one anytime soon.
This holiday season, screen toys for young kids are everywhere — LeapPads, childproof iPad cases, even stuffed animals that hold, display and play music from smartphones.
But not for my kid.
I work online. I have a graduate degree from a prominent tech school. But the more time I spend in front of screens, the more I want my kid to remain screen-free.
My husband and I aren’t Luddites; we both have smartphones, laptops and bluetooth devices; we don’t live in a wilderness shack. But I’m still not convinced that all the toys and electronic kid paraphernalia are necessary. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not.
1. Every action takes a muscle.
Our daughter, who’s just shy of 2, is still figuring out what fingers do. Writing takes muscles, plus the muscle memory to recall the movements and hand-eye coordination. Studies show that brain development depends on such activities. I don’t want to have a kid who can’t hold a pencil — a problem researchers already see cropping up. Or a child who suffers from ”digital dementia”: brain atrophy as a teen.
2. I want her to explore.
Yes, she could explore the colors, letters and apps on an iPad. But those worlds have limits. I want her to get lost and find her way home on her own (proverbially, at the moment). I want her to explore the points on a pinecone, gravity while running downhill and the softness of a puppy’s ears. I want her to engage.
3. She can learn to type later.
There’s an argument that kids need to use keyboards and screens at an early age so they won’t fall behind their peers. But I don’t fear my child losing a few SAT points because she couldn’t type at age 3. I do fear her losing her sense of adventure and exploration, her curiosity, her love for learning new things — the skills that not all schools can teach.
4. She has a lifetime to spend with a screen.
Let her enjoy the few years she doesn’t have to sit for hours in front of a computer. Most adults don’t say, “Gosh, I wish I spent more time in front of a screen.” Most of us wish for time away from the computer — pursuing hobbies, exercising or, maybe, playing with our kids. This is my gift to her: time to be a kid, before the modern world takes over.
5. We don’t really know the impact yet.
Recent studies show that some apps may be beneficial for young minds. But what’s a could-be app compared to the sure-fire development benefits of a doll and crayons? As one Time tech columnist noted, “It’s pretty much the Wild, Wild West out there.” Besides, Finnish kids top the world in educational achievement, and they don’t start formal academics until age 6 or 7. I don’t think skipping an iPad app that has her reciting the full alphabet by 30 months will keep her from earning a promotion at age 40.
6. I want her to think for herself first.
Harvard professor Howard Gardner differentiates between being “app-dependent,” doing what technology says and looking for new technology when problems arise, and being “app-enabled” — people who use tech as a tool but still possess enough independence and creativity to strike out on their own. I want my child to know the difference. I want her to define herself before the mobile media does it for her.
Of course, despite all the press for screens, one of the hottest toys kids demand this holiday is a hand-weaving loom. Maybe they know best after all.