Here is what NOT to get your kids for Christmas: infant seat with iPad

IMG_1336 Her seat didn’t need an iPad

I’m not just about to lecture you on how you should approach screen time for infants and toddlers. In our home, we are pretty selective about our TV watching (we have a screen that we use occasionally and don’t subscribe to cable). Our daughter is under a “screen ban” for the first two years of her life. This includes smartphone screens and any other screens. I know, and I understand, that many parents use a screen occasionally to soothe or distract their children for a few minutes. How you handle screen time is your decision (hopefully an informed one).

But what I will do is tell you what not to buy —please, pretty please— for your kids or any of your friends’ or relatives’ kids for Christmas: this infant seat with an iPad stand. Why do I feel so strongly about this? There are several reasons:

  • Research has shown that exposure to screens can develop attention disorders later, affecting children’s behaviour and learning abilities in school. In this article in Additude, a magazine dedicated to Attention Deficit Disorder, the author says: “According to Dr. [Dimitri] Christakis [who researches this subject], the rapidly moving images on TV and in video games may rewire the brains of very young children, making it difficult for them to focus on slower tasks that require more thought.”
  • The American Association of Pediatrics recommends the following: “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”
  • John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby (a highly recommended read for anyone with kids ages zero to five), has a similar approach to screens for infants: “Babies need face time. (…) Babies love to gaze at human faces. Mom’s is best of all. (…) What are they looking for in your face? Emotional information. Are you happy, sad, threatened? (…) The only way to improve this accuracy [in interpreting human emotions by looking at faces] is by interacting with other people. That’s why babies need human time in the earliest years. Not computer time. Not television time. Your baby’s brain needs interaction with you, in person, on a consistent basis.”

These two reasons —the potential to develop attention deficit disorders and the harm done to infants by replacing crucial face time with screen time— are often cited as the best reasons to shield children from screens as much as possible, and I agree wholeheartedly with them. But my beef with the iPad infant seat goes even beyond that.

The Fisher Price “Apptivity Seat” suggests that watching a screen is an activity, which is, of course, not. The deceitful marketing is made worse by Fisher Price’s suggestion that babies can benefit from “early learning” apps, which is, of course, a lie: there is absolutely no evidence that infants can learn anything glowing on a screen. I wish I could remember its name, but I once watched a documentary that explained that babies cannot learn any words or facial expressions from screens. Even when watching their mothers on a screen, babies simply were oblivious to cues and words uttered by them. In contrast, the same interactions, when done face to face, resulted in the babies responding to and learning words and facial expressions.

Aside from all the brain science behind it, there is also something I find inherently wrong with pushing a product onto our babies. The shameless marketing of Apple products, which hope to colonize every classroom in the world with dubious claims of educational benefits, has reached a new low with wanting to hook up infants into their screens. We really need to wonder, are we providing sound technology experiences to our children by inundating them with tablets and other screens, or are we merely training our children as future consumers?

The topic of children’s exposure to marketing and advertising is a whole other story, and one that I have been following for a few years. Check out this organization if you’re interested in learning more. They even have a petition to recall the monstrous Apptivity Seat: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading my rant and have a great day!


Why we don’t have a TV at home

D and I have moved a lot in the past 10 years. We lived in several places in Vancouver, then Toronto and now in our Ottawa apartment. In the packing and unpacking that has been our life, we lost one item along the way: our TV.  I can’t recall when or why exactly we decided we would live without a television. But the fact is that we have never looked back. Let me stop for a second and say this: I love television. I think The Wire is the best show of our generation. I am a fan of Mad Men, Girls, and House of Cards (both the original British version and the American adaptation –go Zoe!). But not having a television, that big, black thing that takes the prime real estate in our family rooms, has been completely liberating. (More wall space for art, for one thing).

Not having a television has freed most of our nights to do other things. Sit on the balcony. Play a game. Learn to draw. Read a book. Listen to the radio. I’m still amazed at how that minor adjustment transformed the way we spend our evenings. It made us much more aware of the time we have together and think more about how we spend it. And then some nights we still watch the shows we want to on Netflix or rent them from a local video store (I know. They still exist. Some of them).

Now that we have a toddler, taking a critical approach to our society’s passive obsession with TV has become ever more important to us. A few months ago, while visiting my cousin in Montreal, we talked about his family’s decision to forgo a TV. He and his wife have three beautiful daughters. He said this to me: “We’ve never had a TV. The best part is that our 13-year-old has never watched a TV commercial [at least at home…].” I found this really striking. It made me think that most other 13-year-olds have spent most of their lives being the target of insidious advertising campaigns. It made me think that, maybe, not having a TV will be one of those small gestures that will have a major, positive effect in our daughter’s life: that it will buy her time to find out who she is without being told who she should be by a big, black box in our living room.