Are high-tech toys good -- or bad -- for young children?
I was recently contacted by Aaron Crowe, who's doing a story for the AOL personal finance site WalletPop on the use of high-tech toys with young children. He had some interesting questions about the pros and cons of these ubiquitous gadgets. He specifically asked about these new-fangled iPhone apps that are designed to entertain the little ones. With spring break upon us, lots of us are traveling with young kids and want whatever help we can get to make it through those TSA lines at the airport and to our destination with our sanity generally intact. So, are these apps super-cool parent-helpers, or brain-damaging demon gadgets?
There hasn't been conclusive research on this subject yet. Some of you have seen my articles on TV-watching and young kids. There are some conflicting research studies on the impact of TV, but no "smoking gun" as to clear-cut negative effects -- that is, if you are careful as to WHAT is watched, and for HOW LONG. I think we can reasonably assume that the use of high-tech gadgetry has a similar impact on kids as to that of TV.
Another Balancing Act for the Good-Enough Parent A Good-Enough Parent is one who balances the child's needs within the scope of the needs of the whole family. A Good-Enough Parent doesn't worry that playing with a high-tech toy during a long wait at an airport will do damage to their child, but rather is grateful for the help of technology and takes the opportunity to grab a coffee and have a few minutes of peace, while their child is "app-happy". After that brief interlude to get re-charged for the trip, a Good Enough Parent focuses back on the child and looks for ways to make the trip fun -- or at least tolerable -- without the gadget. But guess what? If you're traveling under serious degrees of difficulty -- as in, multiple young children, lots of delays, transfers, or red-eye flights, that high-tech gadget might come in really handy. And if your toddler or preschooler ends up using it the whole darn trip, IT'S OK WITH ME. The only danger is in getting used to relying on the high-tech toys after the trip, and forgetting that, deep down, what kids really want is to play with their parents. Simple family-oriented time together is what young children need most.
Because to me, the main issue is BALANCE and MODERATION. Use of your cell-phone apps for toddlers on a daily basis? (Insert loud buzzing sound here.) Use of said apps to get through an otherwise painful trip? Ding ding ding! Go for it! Because you know how technology works -- kids go through a phase where they really get into a new gizmo, and then after awhile, lose their enthusiasm. It's up to us as parents to create an environment where kids (and we grown-ups!) can enjoy conversations, simple games, and creative toys to balance out the high tech stimulation we all get on a daily basis.
Thanks, Aaron, for the opportunity to be used as an "expert" for your feature.
If you're interested, check out his story here.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert