Parenting • May 09, 2013

Should I Let My Child use an iPad?

Should I let my child play with an iPad?

This is why I say, “Yes!” to my toddler and his tablet.

“Mama, can I have the ‘myPad’? Please!”

This is one of the most common phrases I will hear most any given day. My iPad was fondly renamed by my now 3-year-old, when he turned two. Like most kids, he was drawn to the colorful glowing screen that usually features a picture of his face on the home screen. Of course he would think it was his!

As a mother and pediatrician, I have spent many – too many –  minutes worrying about whether the iPad was a good idea at all. How much time is too much? What was appropriate “educational” content? Were other parents providing better apps then I was? Was I “cheating” as a parent to have a kid sit calmly through dinner at a restaurant because of an electronic device? Was there some benefit to having a child scream and kick through a long car trip?

The further I get into parenting, the more realize the iPad, or any similar device is just a tool like any other, and a toy like no other.  Here are my top reasons for continuing to allow my young child to have the “myPad”.

1)      I want my child’s brain to be more comfortable then mine switching from paper to electronic formats and back. I have been using a computer since I was less then 10. Yet, it has still taken years to “let go of the paper.” From calendars to books, my brain still fights me on this one. I love my e-readers, but sometimes I just want a heavy stack of papers and a fat highlighter. The world is not headed back to paper, so why would I try to raise my child as if it was?

2)      I don’t believe in “just because.”  As in, just because I was raised without a tablet and turned out well (by my parents’ standards) does not mean that all future generations should be raised in the exact same manner. That is backwards thinking. They are growing into a world different from the one we currently live in and so they should be raised accordingly.

3)      He learns things from it. He does and so do I. Many of the apps challenge him and he quickly will become bored with material and skills he has mastered and move himself to something else. It grows with him.

4)      It builds fine motor skills.

5)      He likes it.

6)      It has built-in safety features. Bear with me. Many times I have provided the “myPad” at the kitchen island while working with knives, hot burners, ovens, etc. Often alone in the house with my child, I would rather have him engrossed in a positive “sit still” activity then constantly underfoot and at risk of harm. It is also useful when I need a shower, or to return a page, etc.

7)      It reduces stress. Whether in a waiting room, the car, waiting for the check at dinner, or visiting friends without children, a tablet device can hold enough entertainment to keep him from boredom, mischief, and melt down. This reduces both his stress and mine.

But… there are some things to keep in mind:

1)      It is a tool: Multipurpose it may be, but it requires observation and responsibility on the part of the parent to provide age-appropriate material and time limits if needed.

2)      It does not replace human interaction which is so very important: Both parent/child and peer group or sibling interactions are extremely important. “Mommy and Me” time is always a priority. My son attends a child development center where there is no screen time and lots of social time. He has an extroverted personality so the isolation of the myPad at home is not a concern right now. Know your child. If they need to work on social interactions then time limits should be enforced or the device could be used in specific ways to encourage and aid social interactions.

3)      It does not provide exercise or gross motor development: It may be great for the mind but less so for the body. There are exercise apps. I am not sure if there are kid-specific apps along this line, but there probably are. Weight issues are a concern for our young sedentary population. Keep this in mind. Balance in life is important. A tablet can teach you the rules and strategies of soccer, but it can’t teach you how to kick a ball or be on a team.

4)      They can break it: If you can’t live without it, insure it, or replace it, be very careful how, where and when you let your child use it. Back-up data and photos that can’t be replaced.

So, those are my thoughts and my decision. Every family, every child is different. This is not an ad for iPads, but the future of child rearing is upon us and the newest generation of tech savvy toddlers is here to stay.