This is a huge topic of discussion around our house lately. I’d say most parents have had this argume…peaceful exchange of ideas…in some form or another. When I was a kid, it was “how much TV do you let the kids watch?” or “how much time on the Atari is TOO much time?” Anyone who ever played Pitfall knows the answer…there’s no such thing as “too much” time from the kids’ point of view. I mean, look how far I’ve come! Any minute now I’m going to see the gold bullion or the big diamond! Mom! Don’t turn it off! No! I’ve been playing this stupid game for HOURS!
But I’m not bitter or anything.
In our house, it’s not XBox 360 or Nintendo DS. We’re a Mac house. I was given an iPad by my employer a year or so ago, and promptly bought an Otterbox for it (having learned a terrible lesson with my first iPhone). I knew as soon as I saw the box who in the family would be getting the most use out of the iPad. I know, I know, you’re just *shocked* that the answer isn’t me, right?
Our daughter’s love affair with the iPad started with Elmo’s Monster Maker. At first, when she was only a year old, she played it on the iPhone (see comment above about a terrible lesson…). Once the iPad made its appearance, I was overjoyed to learn I could put Elmo’s Monster Maker on the iPad, and hence get my iPhone back for all that terribly important Facebook time I was missing.
As time went by, more apps got installed on the iPad. Wheels On the Bus (guaranteed to make you want to gouge your eyes out in fifteen minutes or less), EasyBeats, Preschool Adventure (don’t put your junk in my backyard, my backyard, my backyard, don’t put your junk in my backyard, my backyard’s full). Don’t ask. And of course, our daughter’s personal favorite app…Netflix.
Yep. I pay $9 a month so my child can stream Wonder Pets, Dragon Tales, and Strawberry Shortcake. So shoot me.
The thing is, I’m about ready to shoot the iPad.
Mostly, she plays with the preschool apps or with the various coloring or drawing apps. She likes the interactivity of the games. I really don’t have much of a problem with the educational apps. She learned the alphabet playing the Super Why app. She can count to 20 and recognize all the numbers. She’s learning spatial relations (something she can then help mommy with later…). For the most part, she’s learning all kinds of stuff. And the drawing apps are just freaking awesome. She can color – with PAINT – for hours, and there’s zero mess! This is remarkable, amazing, and…okay, yeah, I don’t have many drawings on the fridge. Well, I could print them out…but I don’t know…it loses something when you have to send it to the printer – the same printer where I routinely scan my receipts and copy out my expense forms. Ick.
Then there’s Netflix (like we needed another reason to hate Netflix, right?) Wonder Pets. Dora. Diego. Dragon Tales. Spongebob. The Walking Dead. The Smurfs. My Little Pony. Wait, did she say, “the Walking Dead?” As in, the incredibly violent show about a zombie apocalypse? Yep, she sure did. And yep, this really happened. Luckily, my daughter is either terribly smart, or terribly single-minded, and once she realized (within like four seconds) that this wasn’t an animated or brightly colored show (well, depending on the episode, it can be REALLY colorful, but that’s not important right now), she hit the “done” button, went back to “Home” and selected something more her speed – like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Or Caillou (I think I’d rather her watch The Walking Dead, to be honest). Oh, and that link is NSFK – and only the first 25 seconds are funny, but they’re REALLY funny for those of you who have to endure Caillou. The rest is crap. But my point is that there are no good parental controls on Netflix. The smart thing would be to have a separate account for the child…but of course, Netflix would make us PAY for two accounts. Which makes me think this is exactly how they planned it. Which makes me hate them even more.
Did you catch that, though? Before I went off about Caillou and my loathing for Netflix? She started The Walking Dead, registered, “ew, this isn’t one of MY shows,” then tapped the screen to make the controls show, selected the terribly tiny “Done” button at the top left of the screen, then tapped the equally tiny “Home” button at the bottom of the Netflix page, and located a show more to her liking to watch. She’s 3 – and she’s been doing this kind of “advanced” selection for over a year.
Do I think she’s a genius? You bet your boots, I do. But not because of her ability to navigate an iPad. I think most kids her age can do the same thing with the same level of exposure. In fact, I know they can, because I’ve read articles about how preschools are starting to use iPads and touch screens as educational tools. I’ve also been reading articles about iPad addiction among young children, particularly among very young children. Even the Apple forums have several questions (some serious, some not) from parents concerned about their child’s “problem” with the iPad. Just Google “toddler iPad addiction” and you get some alarming results, if for no other reason than how many hits you get.
The real reason we’re concerned isn’t so much that she uses the iPad. It’s how she acts when it’s time to STOP using the iPad that has us worried. She goes from sweet little angel to Veruca Salt in less time than it takes to hit the Home button. If we’re good parents and have a redirect all ready to go, we’re fine: “Hey, come help make dinner in your play kitchen” or “Listen to what Daddy is playing in the studio!” If we’re not ready, or if the battery just up and dies, you’d think we were sawing off her arm by removing the iPad from in front of her: “Nooo! Not my iPad! I NEED it!” or “Give me that back! It’s MY iPad!” So for the most part, it’s like any other toy that we need to take away for whatever reason. Which is precisely why I’m conflicted. On the one hand, the iPad is like anything else the child enjoys, with the added bonus that it *can* be educational. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, the iPad has completely changed the face of long car rides with a very young child. I actually look *forward* to long car rides because I know we can both be absorbed in our own little worlds (me with the thrill of driving – I’m geeky like that – and she with the thrill of watching Nemo for the 742nd time).
I could just delete Netflix, but somehow I think she’d find her way to the App Store and just download it again.
Then there’s my dirty little secret: Netflix is “Mommy’s Little Helper” some days. If I need time to myself, Netflix is there. If I need to make a phone call…Netflix! If I need to use the bathroom…Netflix! I can get an entire half hour of complete silence (well, relative silence…I can hear the show she’s watching) and I can get things accomplished I would otherwise not be able to do. So in many ways, I NEED the iPad. And Netflix. Which makes me feel like a bad mom, but it also allows me to feel like a regular human being who is able to accomplish normal things.
Ultimately, I don’t know what to think. Anything in moderation should be fine…but some days, I’m not so good about the moderation. Then there are whole weeks that go by (when we visit with family, for instance) when the iPad hardly gets any use at all. Maybe it’s just like anything else involved with parenting a child and there is no easy answer. I just don’t know. For now, I lean toward “more good than harm” – but I have to wonder, am I leaning that way because it’s true, or am I leaning that way because it’s easy? Has your child taken possession of your tablet? How do you respond? Am I overly worried here?