The Fisher-Price Apptivity Seat: a baby seat that can hold an iPad in front of a baby too young to even hold their head up. Have we finally gone too far in encouraging parents to get their very young children hooked on technology? Many parents and blogs are petitioning to have the item taken off the market.
The early-childhood toy company Fisher-Price has long been making inroads to the tech accessory market for as long as parents have been mollifying their kids by handing them their iPads and smartphones. This is to say, not very long in the grand scheme of things, but for most of the history of the iPad, a device very hospitable to chubby little fingers. Few parents would agree that presents an ideal educational opportunity for their child, but screen use is an integral and largely unevaluated part of contemporary parenting.
Educational and play apps for young children have reflected this reality by becoming a huge industry. Unlike pacification through TV viewing, the right apps, many researchers have found, encourage active, immediate relationships with objects on screen, integrate with real objects, and tune kids in to what researchers call “socially relevant information” – the equivalent, pre-iPad, of Steve on the show Blue’s Clues waiting for viewers’ responses, thus establishing that their notions and responses also have an effect.
Despite the success of these apps among slightly older children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has held fast to a rule that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t have any screen time at all, despite reviewing their policy in 2011. But there’s a disconnect between these recommendations and reality: in 2006, 90 percent of parents said that their children younger than 2 consumed some form of electronic media, and the number can only have grown by now. Many sources seem to recommend that electronic media consumption be done with the help and companionship of a parent. However, after a while, this does not prepare kids for how technology fits into the lives of their peers, in the present or the unproven future. Pediatrics “assumes a zero-sum game: an hour spent watching TV is an hour not spent with a parent,” writes Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic. “But parents know this is not how life works. There are enough hours in a day to go to school, play a game, and spend time with a parent, and generally these are different hours.”
Though the Apptivity seat’s target audience is probably too young to be using the iPad alone as it seems to encourage, it is difficult to say when the ideal age to introduce children to technology is. “People say we are experimenting with our children,” Sandra Calvert, the director of the Children’s Media Center at Georgetown University. “But from my perspective, it’s already happened, and there’s no way to turn it back. Children’s lives are filled with media at younger and younger ages, and we need to take advantage of what these technologies have to offer. I’m not a Pollyanna. I’m pretty much a realist. I look at what kids are doing and try to figure out how to make the best of it.” The technology is also changing all the time, and it’s difficult to plan for technologies that don’t yet exist, to which our children will be “digital immigrants” themselves. Allowing appropriately aged children to master current technologies might be all we can do.