I got in a heated discussion with a researcher last week. We were chatting about strategies to improve challenges with overweight and obesity.  He mentioned it was media controls (automatic locks on devices) that would change children’s habits regrading screen time in the home — he just didn’t want to leave it up to parents anymore. As I understood his perspective, left to chance it’s unlikely parents will avoid screens when it comes at the cost of convenience. I mentioned to him that my young children watched very little television, that in fact, “They’d never turned the television on themselves.” He looked at me sideways, he called my bluff. I told him again they literally had zero access to TV or other screens on their own.

He didn’t believe me.

Why No TV Before Bed Is Better

I’ve carried this conversation with the researcher with me since. Not only because of how it rubbed me the wrong way  but how his presumptions are based in new realities. It was easier, even just 7 years ago, to rear our children screen-free. I mean, the iPhone didn’t exist when my 7 year-old was born. It’s far more difficult to moderate screen use now that the majority of parents have smart phones in their pockets, laptops in the kitchen, and tablets near the couch. Three quarters of young children now live in homes with mobile devices (like my children). Those of us who avoid or limit screens have created huge work-arounds in our world.

Earlier this year Common Sense Media published their Zero To Eight report detailing young children’s media use. The report is worth a glance as the stats are fairly mind-blowing. A snaphot shows us:

  • 3/4 of young children live in homes with mobile devices, some 38% of infants and toddlers have now used a mobile device.
  • 1/3 of children have a television in their bedroom (16% of infants have one) and the likelihood that one ends up there increases with age. For children between 5 and 8 years of age, nearly 1/2 (45%) have a TV where they sleep. Most noteworthy for me: the main reason parents report that a child has a TV in the bedroom is to, “Free up other TVs so family members can watch their own shows.”
  • Over 1/3 of families say the television is on “most or all of the time” in their home.
  • 63% of children have played a game on a smartphone or mobile device with 17% of parents reporting their children (0-8 years) use a mobile device every single day.

The stats go on and on and it can all feel a little reckless. I’m keenly aware that stats don’t really change behavior and I also really believe that if moderation is king guilt-free is queen. This post isn’t designed to inspire guilt. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that there is no developmental benefit to screen time prior to age 2 . Sometimes learning what TV does to your child’s brain helps. I’m writing this because of 2 recent announcements:

Not a Screen Free Place Around:

Screenshot 2013-12-10 11.13.15I can no longer think of a sacred place (without screens). In addition to the 2013 “innovation” of iPads being affixed to training potties, I recently learned about the iPad bouncy chair (the “Apptivity Seat) where a baby (a BABY!) can sit and play with their iPad. There’s a rash of iPads affixed to all sorts of things this holiday season. Just last week Applebees restaurants announced they will be deploying 100,000 screens to their dinner tables. That’s right, you and I now live in a country where your baby can plug into a device before they can talk and hold their head up and you’re about to be saved from ever having to ask a server for onion rings, let alone talk with your family or friends.

Snarkiness aside, I think we need to reflect loudly about how we make choices as parents and consumers. Corporate America and big box retailers may not have your back in this regard. As these baby human beings’ brains are rapidly making connections (young children make 700 synapses [connections between brain cells] per second during birth to 2 years)  they are simply learning how to think. Do you really want the iPad doing the instructing?

It’s fairly unsexy to say that babies need human interaction, song, discussion, tactile play, time and space for creative play with blocks, books, toys and games. Yet it’s true that indeed it’s what is better for them. Why is it so hard for us to believe and value that we humans are far better for our children than these technologies?

Left to chance it’s unlikely that parents of babies and young infants will avoid relying on screens as they raise their children, particularly as screens become unimaginably ubiquitous. I’d really love to hear your experiences and opinions on these iPad seats, potties, and screen conveniences. You think I’m off here? Doesn’t it make you mad that someone is trying to get rich as our children get less of us?