The Screen


When I spoke recently to Faye Mishna about online bullying, she showed me, as an aside, a video of an iPad-savvy one-year-old who can’t work out why magazine images don’t scroll and zoom at the touch of a finger.

The video concludes with the line, “For my 1 year old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life. Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.”

Way to freak me out, Internet.

My first child just celebrated his first birthday and number two is due to touch down in November. Naturally, I’m in a perpetual tizz about the ubiquity of glowing rectangles. TVs are everywhere – restaurants, doctors’ waiting rooms, shopping malls, highway billboards. Not to mention my own collection of touch-sensitive devices courtesy of Jobs.

So far, we’ve been good about keeping our devices switched off when the boy is awake, but the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, suggests that might all change soon.

“As a new parent, I dutifully followed the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines—no TV until two,” she wrote recently. “I did so in the manner of other parents I knew, which is to say with my first child. By 2007, when I was juggling a two-year-old and a newborn, a little TV watching in the pre-early morning seemed pretty appealing.”

Way to freak me out, legacy media.

Am I crazy to worry that glowing screens are effectively the zombie apocalypse, eating my kids’ brains and leaving them obese, sleepless, aggressive and unable to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes?

I asked Donna Kotsopoulos, a math educator and researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University. She pointed me to those same recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on media use by children under two years (briefly, they strongly discourage television for kids that age, but don’t go so far as to forbid it).

That’s TV. What about tablets? On one hand, they seem better because the user is active rather than passive. On the other, they can be more immersive. Intuitively, a tablet feels as though it more thoroughly cuts a child (or adult, for that matter) off from the world.
There is no shortage of videos featuring kids and iPads.

I can watch them endlessly, and have such a wide range of personal reactions (Cute! Terrifying! Fun! Don’t hurt your brain! Ten years from now, you will dominate me technologically!) that I ultimately want to seek refuge in data. As it happens, Kotsopoulos is part of a research project aimed at finding out more about the effects of mobile devices on young brains.

“We are in the middle of a study right now with tablets – funded through the Ontario Centres for Excellence,” she told me. “The one we are investigating is the VINCI . The research is rather grey on the issue because most of the [current] research or policy statements do not consider mobile devices.”

Kotsopoulos and her colleague Joanne Lee run a program called LittleCounters. In these workshops, they use interactive whiteboards but they will wait to see the results of more research before they consider using tablets.This puts my mind at greater ease, as this fall, I’m planning to participate in one of these workshops with my son, and report back here. I will also update any new research results related to kids and mobile devices.

Way to not freak me out, world of university research.

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  1. Egrech

    New research (Early childhood television viewing predicts explosive leg strength and waist circumference by middle childhood
    Caroline Fitzpatrick, Linda S Pagani and Tracie A Barnett
    International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (in press)) indicates that high levels of TV during childhood can contribute to weight later on in life – can’t imagine that sitting in-front of a tablet would be much different.  In addition, perhaps the question to ask is if those children who are computer literate are computer intelligent.  I teach at university and many of my students have no idea who to use the internet to research issues – but they know how to text at an unbelievable number of words (shortened of course!) per minute.  Ask them to research and issue and they struggle (and quote Wikipedia.)  Do we need to introduce infants to tablets – or is it another way that we can allow ourselves, as parents, to do what we want to do while our children are otherwise occupied – oh – and “safe”.

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