What’s the best tablet for toddlers?
It’s a question I see over and over again on Facebook and in my Twitter stream.
And it’s always followed by…
I want my phone/tablet back!
I won’t pretend that my kids are tech-free. They’re not. And I don’t think they should be. They are growing up in a tech savvy world, and they shouldn’t be left behind.
But they are limited. Ten-minute timers are the norm around here. When the timer beeps, they hand it over.
They don’t argue. They don’t beg for more. And when they go seven days without any iPad time? They don’t even seem to notice.
They would rather play with cars, trucks, dolls, and stuffed animals. They would rather build zoos and create construction sites. They would rather plant beans and dig up worms. They would rather play board games and ride scooters.
They would rather create their own fun.
Just last night…a simple Dixie cup in the bathtub became both an excavator and a pet wash. Their needs are simple…
When I see the holiday price cuts for the toddler tablets and hear moms discussing which is better and why…I can’t help but wonder why a toddler needs a tablet of his own in the first place…
There seem to be some conflicting views among parents of young kids when it comes to exposing our children to technology. I say set clear limits but teach them to navigate the iPad, a laptop, or other similar devices because they are growing up in a tech savvy world (like it or not). Some say a little TV is ok, but avoid the rest. And others say no media at all…these young minds need only to activate their imaginations. What do you think?
Please stop by Mommy Moment and join the conversation about The Media Diet!
One thing that parents can’t deny is that technology is everywhere. From Smartphones and iPads to toys that just won’t stop beeping and flashing, kids are bombarded with advances in technology almost from the minute they enter the world. There seem to be two distinct sides when it comes to how to handle use of technology with young children: There are those who take the “when in Rome” approach (everybody else is doing it…) and allow it whenever “necessary”, and those who claim to avoid it at all costs. I actually believe that there is a very large grey area somewhere in between, and that’s where we camp out. My kids are not glued to the television, and they don’t even really know that computer games exist, but my two year old can use my iPhone more efficiently than many adults and my four year old once added a little American flag to the top right corner of the screen on my MacBook and I still don’t know how she did it. My husband is in music, so he has no choice but to be technologically savvy. When I met him he had the largest cell phone I had ever seen. Seriously, like the one Zach Morris used to carry around on “Saved By The Bell”. He had an AOL screen name on his father’s account. He was living on the road and not really keeping up with technology. Eleven years later he is the tech guy around here. He moved us from PC’s to Macs and lame phones to iPhones. The kids are baffled by the fact that their grandmother can’t capture videos on her cell phone and were horrified to learn that Mimi can’t record their favorite shows and fast-forward through the commercials. So while they are not glued to the television day after day, they are aware that technology exists. The question is, how much is too much? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 avoid all TV, and that children ages 2-6 only watch 1-2 hours. Liam is only 21 months younger than Riley. It can be hard, make that impossible, to allow one kid screen time and the other none when they are that close in age. It was around 20 months that I really started to introduce TV to Riley. My husband was on tour for the summer, and the only way that I could shower was to turn on Elmo’s World. It’s a 13-minute segment; I would say she attended to it for about ten minutes. Long enough for a little soap and shampoo. Mission accomplished. When Liam came along, I stuck to the same morning routine. He slept through all of it for many months (15 to be exact), but eventually he started playing on the floor while the TV was on. There are those who would argue that just the white noise of the TV is a problem for kids under age 2 for various reasons (obesity is linked to kids who log a lot of screen time, and allegedly even “infant videos” can cause cognitive delays). Liam talks more than any two year old I’ve ever known, and he only asks for additional TV time when he’s sick. I’m not concerned about his early exposure to Elmo. But with phones in our pockets that can download entire movies and iPads that fit into any purse, it makes good sense to think about appropriate ways to both use and limit technology for little ones. Below are some tips for helping you make smart decisions in a tech-savvy world:
1. Consider the need: It’s easy to hand over the iPhone when I’m trying to get a load of laundry done or the dishes cleaned before preschool pick-up. I try to stop myself and think about why I’m tempted to hand it over. On a recent East coast trip Liam became addicted to my iPhone. He was struggling with normal eating and not sleeping particularly well, so I took to letting him scroll through pictures or play toddler quizzing games when times got stressful. I had to really limit his access upon our return to LA. I try to limit iPhone time to certain circumstances (Sean is a little more loose, but I think Dads need their own systems so I don’t mind): Long car rides, long flights, keeping Liam awake during preschool pick-up, music on the go, and during doctor visits. I have found that most of their TV shows run about 20 minutes (sometimes less). TV time is scheduled in our house: Morning, before Liam’s nap, during the nighttime routine (but NOT right before bed). Riley actually opts out of Liam’s shows and plays quietly, and he does the same.
2. Keep it age-appropriate: Most feature length animated movies are actually not appropriate for kids under 6. Most of them contain themes that are scary and hard to grasp, and at least one intense scene that might cause some fears. I won’t say, “don’t let them watch movies”, but I certainly won’t expose my kids until I’m sure that they are ready. Liam is obsessed with the characters from “Cars”. He chooses a different alias each day and runs with it. He has no idea that they came from a movie. In fact, he thinks that the trailer for the movie is as good as it gets! Screen everything first and try to make choices that you think your kids can handle. Elmo keeps it fun and educational for the younger ones, while Mickey Mouseclub, Dora, Diego, Olivia, and Kai-Lan all target preschoolers. We’ve run into a few mishaps with Curious George (so pre-screen to be sure), although both kids generally enjoy it. Riley recently had a major meltdown when it occurred to her that Max and Ruby “don’t have a family”. I had my concerns all along, but it is otherwise a fairly calming show. Lesson learned: Pay attention!
3. Set limits: I’m a fan of schedules in general because kids like to know what to expect. As previously mentioned, TV time is scheduled around here. The kids know when it’s time and when it’s not. We don’t have a lot of power struggles on that end. It can be more difficult once they get started on the iPhone. I try to provide specific parameters and stick to them. If Liam uses the phone in the car, he knows to hand it over when we pull into the driveway. There are times (like doctor visits and long flights) when it can be impossible to limit them. Don’t sweat it. If you’re limiting their screen time (Smartphones included) on a regular basis, then the special circumstances will be just that: Special. However, if you hand over the phone every time you get in the car, they will come to expect it. When they have expectations, the power struggles will begin. Revert to #1 and consider the need before you hand it over so that you don’t set them up for later disappointment. **Turn off the TV and take away the Smartphones during meals!!!!!!
4. Keep it educational: PBS and Nick Jr. do a pretty good job of keeping their preschool programming educational. Prescreen to meet the individual needs of your child (they are all different), but try to rely on the experts versus the word on the playground. Spongebob is not intended for four year olds! Make the best choices for your child. There are a lot of great Smartphone apps for toddlers and preschoolers. Read the parent reviews and test out the apps before you hand them over. Keep it focused on learning: You can never have too much letter/number identification, matching, opposites, letter/number tracing, etc.
5. Keep talking: I’m the first to admit that sometimes you just need a distraction so that you can make that important phone call. But for the most part, I ask questions and keep them engaged while they are using my iPhone. I try not to just hand it over and walk away. If they are playing a quizzing game I ask them questions about the game. I watch them trace letters and comment on their progress. Sometimes I need to keep them busy, but for the most part I try to keep them engaged so that they are not just tuned out to the world around them. If you limit the time and keep them engaged, you can make technology work for you.
6. Out of sight, out of mind: We have a little tech corner in the kitchen, far away from the table and not really visible from the play area. This is where we charge/store the laptops and iPhones when not in use. When the technology is out of sight, they almost never ask for it. When they see the laptop on the kitchen island or can grab the iPhone out of my purse, they start asking! Limited access = limited overload…for everyone.
7. A few of my favorite apps: Liam’s favorite thing to do is to scroll through the pictures and videos stored in the phone. I actually think it’s a good thing for him. Kids love to see their baby pictures and it gets them talking about family memories. But there are some great apps out there that keep them learning while keeping them busy. Toddler Teasers is by far my favorite app of all time. Kids practice identifying shapes, letters, numbers, colors, animals, etc. and are awarded with “stickers” to place on a page. They also get lots of cheers along the way. iTot Flash Cards is a good one for the younger kids to attach words to pictures. Alphabet Tracing is great for preschoolers who really want to start learning how to “write” numbers and letters. It doesn’t teach them to write with a pen, but it shows them how to make the letters. Peek-A-Boo Barn is fun for toddlers. They try to guess the animal sound coming from the barn and then see the animal when the barn opens. Cars Match is basically memory, but all cars. Great for boys! Kids Painter is a fun finger painting game that focuses on creativity. Balloons is another good one for toddlers. It actually works on impulse control, as they have to learn how much is too much when blowing up a balloon. Kids Puzzle has a few different puzzle boards and different levels for toddlers and preschoolers (although Liam quickly mastered the preschool level and didn’t really bother with the toddler one). Cake and Ice Cream is fun for everyone. It really just works on creativity. My kids get a kick out of trying to build the most outlandish cake or put the most scoops of ice cream on the cone.
Technology: Limit it but don’t fear it. Evaluate your needs and use it in a way that is beneficial to your family. But by all means, don’t bring it to the restaurant!
What do you think? Are kids on tech overload these days? What apps and shows would you recommend?