Mobile devices are not babysitters

Published Jun 25, 2014 at 5:40 am (Updated Jun 24, 2014 at 10:37 am)

There are seemingly no bounds to what can be done with a smartphone or tablet. You can completely automate your home, start your car, track your daily caloric intake, map your run, even go back in time to see what you posted on social media on the current day each year.

You can read books, watch movies, allow your children to play educational games and do your banking. This newspaper even unveiled a mobile app this week, allowing readers to get South Hills news with the touch of a button. If you can dream it, there probably is an app for it.

This technology has no doubt simplified many aspects of our lives, allowing many new conveniences where they simply didn’t exist before. But, does all of this convenience come with a price when not used appropriately? Absolutely.

Go into any restaurant, and you will no doubt see families sitting together at tables, but not speaking – rather, all glued to smartphones or tablets. Mobile devices, it seems, are being used as babysitters and pacifiers. A recent CBS news story reported on parents who claimed that their babies could swipe on a tablet before the age of nine months. That same story reported that a survey by Northwestern’s School of Communication found that 37 percent of parents are likely to use their smartphone or tablet to entertain their children. Only 10 percent of parents reported using their mobile devices to educate their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official recommendation is that children under the age of 2 should have no “passive screen time.” That recommendation has long been thought of as television, but it certainly applies to computers and mobile devices. The reason is simple – children will get more out of talking and interacting with their family members and “unstructured” play time than they will with a tablet.

Now, is there anything wrong with using a tablet to play games and do puzzles, or even watch a movie on a long car ride or airplane trip? Not at all. But, they should absolutely not be a substitute for parental attention.

The jury is still out as to what long term neurological and psychological ramifications mobile devices may have on young children. One thing is for sure – the more that children and teenagers are glued to screens, the less they are engaging in conversation (which helps develop social skills) and the less they are participating in physical activities (which has a slew of benefits).

Our advice? Put the tablets and smartphones away and have an actual conversation.

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