Young childrenâ€”even toddlersâ€”are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy on very young children and media. In 1999, the group had discouraged television viewing for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development that showed this age groupâ€™s critical need for â€œdirect interactions with parents and other significant care givers.â€ The updated report began by acknowledging that things had changed significantly since then. In 2006, 90 percent of parents said that their children younger than 2 consumed some form of electronic media. Nonetheless, the group took largely the same approach it did in 1999, uniformly discouraging passive media use, on any type of screen, for these kids. (For older children, the academy noted, â€œhigh-quality programsâ€ could have â€œeducational benefits.â€) The 2011 report mentioned â€œsmart cell phoneâ€ and â€œnew screenâ€ technologies, but did not address interactive apps. Nor did it broach the possibility that has likely occurred to those 90 percent of American parents, queasy though they might be: that some good might come from those little swiping fingers.
I had come to the developersâ€™ conference partly because I hoped that this particular set of parents, enthusiastic as they were about interactive media, might help me out of this conundrum, that they might offer some guiding principle for American parents who are clearly never going to meet the academyâ€™s ideals, and at some level do not want to. Perhaps this group would be able to articulate some benefits of the new technology that the more cautious pediatricians werenâ€™t ready to address. I nurtured this hope until about lunchtime, when the developers gathering in the dining hall ceased being visionaries and reverted to being ordinary parents, trying to settle their toddlers in high chairs and get them to eat something besides bread.
I fell into conversation with a woman who had helped develop Montessori Letter Sounds, an app that teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling.
She was a former Montessori teacher and a mother of four. I myself have three children who are all fans of the touch screen. What games did her kids like to play?, I asked, hoping for suggestions I could take home.
â€œThey donâ€™t play all that much.â€
Really? Why not?
â€œBecause I donâ€™t allow it. We have a rule of no screen time during the week,â€ unless itâ€™s clearly educational.
No screen time? None at all? That seems at the outer edge of restrictive, even by the standards of my overcontrolling parenting set.
â€œOn the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.â€