Picture this…..it’s the witching hour and you’re madly rushing around trying to get dinner sorted while your toddler is whinging and wants your attention…..what do you do?
You see your iPhone/iPad lying on the bench next to you. And you know this will keep your kid busy so you can do what needs to be done. So you pass over the mobile device and get on with getting dinner on the table at a respectable hour.
Ahhh finally some peace and quiet and dinner is on the table. But how do you get the mobile device back without a tantrum?
Yes I have done this with my Little Miss Three, used my iPad as a babysitting tool so that I could get a household job done. But, what I’ve come to realise is that the meltdown that occurs after taking away the device is definitely not worth it.
It seems to me that these mobile devices are doing something dramatic to little kids’ brains…..it’s almost like a drug and when you take it away from them they can’t cope.
What does an iPad meltdown look like?
I was away for Christmas visiting with family in Queensland and I experienced many an iPad/iPhone meltdown from children ranging in age from 2 through to 6. Some of the behaviours I witnessed when the device was removed included:
- Crying and yelling, “give it back to me”;
- Full on tantrum with throwing themselves on the ground; and
- Sneakiness: taking the iPhone when Mum/Dad weren’t watching and sneaking off to use it where they couldn’t see.
And there was even one incident where the tantrum went on for about 30 minutes.
What do the experts say?
For a long time I’ve heard that you should not allow screen time for the under 2 year olds, and screen time should definitely be limited for children 2 – 6. This recommendation was mainly based on research of traditional screens, such as TV, DVDs and video games. But, it appears there is actually quite little research that has been done in to the psychological effects of mobile devices on young children.
BabyLab at Swinburne University in Melbourne is currently conducting research exploring the impact of the use of technology (video chat, touch screen apps) amongst children aged 2-5 years. The Director, Jordy Kaufman explains that “research is in its infancy. We know little about what is going on in a child’s head while they are using a tablet.” He goes on to further explain that one of the reasons there is little research is partly because it’s hard to measure brain activity in someone who is moving as well as the fact that metal can’t be taken into an MRI scanner. But he does say that until more is known that parents should follow their own parenting instincts.
I also found a report, based on a survey conducted with parents in the USA. Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013 documents how children’s media environments and behaviours have changed since 2011. The survey was conducted with parents that had children aged between 0-8.
There were a couple of really noteworthy points from the report. Firstly, 72% of children age 8 and under have used mobile devices. This is a substantial increase from the 2011 data, which indicated 39% had used a mobile device.
The other finding that I think is somewhat alarming is that 38% of children under 2 have used a mobile device (10% 2 years ago) and the amount of time spent on mobile devices in a typical day has tripled, from 5 minutes a day in 2011 to 15 minutes a day in 2013.
As I described above about using mobile devices as a babysitter, 42% of parents in the report said they had sometimes used their mobile device to keep their child occupied while they do chores around the house, and 13% said they did often.
If you have time definitely have a read of the report as I found it quite interesting, particularly the section on screen time for children under 2.
What my parenting instincts are telling me
Okay so no one really yet fully knows the impact mobile devices have on young children. As I’ve seen with my own daughter there are both positive and negative results of iPad use.
But my instincts as a parent are telling me that regular, unsupervised time on the iPad has behavioural consequences that I don’t think are normal for a child of 3. Yes my daughter has tantrums and yes she yells and cries if she doesn’t get her own way, but it is at a whole new level when a mobile device is introduced.
I’m not prepared to take the chance and let her have my iPad or iPhone whenever she wants and to use unsupervised.
How I will now use my iPad with my daughter
As she gets older I will slowly reintroduce the iPad but with some strict guidelines (for myself) including:
- Explain the rules of iPad use to her: let her know how much time we’ll be using it for, that Mum will also get to choose which Apps we will use and that if something comes up and we need to stop using the iPad then she needs to give it to me to pack away.
- Use the device together, rather than giving it to her to keep her busy so I can get things done.
- Time the session on the device and let her know that today we are only spending 10 minutes on the iPad. Set a timer to ensure that we stick to the designated time. Change this regularly so she doesn’t think that it is a given that she gets a certain amount of time.
- Monitor the type of Apps we use and if there are any that seem to mesmerise her or put her in a bad mood, then remove these as they are not suitable for her.
Okay back to the scenario at the start of getting dinner ready and plonking my kid in front of the iPad to get dinner done….. I’ve now made a few changes to make this part of the day more pleasant:
It’s quite simple really, I now get my daughter to help me with dinner; I give her specific jobs that are hers to do. She sets the table with placemats and cutlery, she puts out the cups and she helps with getting dinner ready. Yes it’s painful and yes it takes longer to get dinner ready and yes I wish that I could just get it on the table…..but it is also teaching her about being helpful, being responsible and it is a great time for us together.
Do you use a mobile device with your child, if so how old are they? What has been your experience with the iPad meltdown? Do you have any advice for us? Please leave your comments below.
Graphic Credits: Amazing Classroom