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Smart Phones, Smart Kids

Antonio Guillem | Dreamstime.com

We live in a gadget-driven society. Just look around as teenagers walk across a high school or college campus. It’s hard not to miss the number of kids using smart phones, their heads are often bowed as they text or talk between classes. And I’ll bet you’ve had to wrestle with deciding when your child is old enough to get a cell phone, or a Wii, or an Xbox over the holidays.       

Gadgets like gaming toys or smart phones can be cool; they can help us work, they’re convenient, they provide hours of enjoyment, and they can make our lives easier at times.

But gadgets have their place. Such electronics require monitoring when being used by children and tweens, since they are still learning how to regulate their behavior. That is part of our job as parents, determining when it’s appropriate to give them such products and then, providing the rules and guidance they’ll need once they’re using them. It’s tough territory for parents, since we have to answer for ourselves what is appropriate for our child at each age. And we have to be willing to learn more about these devices ourselves, so we can make informed choices.

I remember having to face those questions at a number of junctures during my son’s childhood. It seemed just as we moved through one passage (the arrival of Gameboys during elementary school years comes to mind), it wasn’t long before something new, like getting a cell phone, arose.

This month, you’ll see a range of stories that fit under this umbrella. From learning more about Vine, an app that allows kids to upload six-second video clips, to exercaucers and how long babies should play there.

A recent press release by Fisher-Price caused quite a stir in this arena. Why? Because the newborn-to-toddler Apptivity Seat that company recently produced is a bouncer that comes i-Pad-ready. Yep, hard to believe but this manufacturer seems to think busy parents will jump at the chance to slap an app on their iPad, plug an 8-month-old in, and opt for an instant sitter.

Advocates at commercialfreechildhood.org write, “The Apptivity Seat is the ultimate electronic baby sitter. Because screens can be mesmerizing and babies are strapped down and “safely” restrained, it encourages parents to leave infants all alone with an iPad.

To make matters worse, Fisher-Price is marketing the Apptivity Seat — and claiming it’s educational — for newborns. Parents are encouraged to download “early learning apps” that claim to “introduce baby to letters, numbers and more.” There’s no evidence that babies benefit from screen time and some evidence that it might be harmful. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for children under 2.”

If you read our Early Years columns, then you know the importance of brain stimulation early in a child’s life. Babies need human interaction, they need to be stimulated by touch, talk, read, and play activities, not parked in front of a screen that delivers electronic image. The same can be said for older children as well.

I found it interesting as I recently met some teenage students at Collierville High School who are part of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program. It turns out they aren’t that different from their younger counterparts. What was reinforced as I spent a morning with Shelli Brasher’s class is that kids learn best when they’re engaged with their environment. Hands-on learning (instead of being plugged into a gadget) helps kids make connections and learn material in a more profound way.  

Gadgets can be good, but they have their place. (And trust me, it’s definitely not in your baby’s bouncer.) Because learning takes place when humans are engaged in activities or interaction with others. As you’ll discover reading about STEM classes, teenagers at Collierville and elsewhere across the city are learning physics and math principles and putting them to use to solve real problems. The kids will tell you they like handling power tools and figuring out the answers to questions posed by the various projects they tackle. Here’s what happens when kids are forced to do something besides engage with their gadgets. They build robots, and catapults, and problem solve, and get ready for real-world adventures. And maybe that will lead to whatever comes next in the gadget-filled realm of tomorrow.


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