SAN DIEGO – This year, the American Academy of Pediatrics will likely reconsider its guidelines for screen time for toddlers because mobile devices have become so mainstream.
A recent Nielsen study found 70 percent of children under the age of 12 use tablets. Those kids are now known as the “app generation” born to digital natives, meaning technology will always be a part of their life.
FOX 5 San Diego decided to run an unscientific social experiment with a handful of toddlers between 18 months and 3 years old at Discover the Glow in Pacific Beach, a new center offering pre and post-partum resources for moms.
At first, we allowed the kids to free play with whatever toys were in the play area. Toys included a slide, books, blocks and “dream tablets,” basically an iPad designed for kids.
About half the kids played with the non-electronic toys, while the children familiar with the devices were naturally geared toward the electronic devices. Declan Bruntsch, 2, knew how to plug in his headphones and turn on the device.
Then, FOX 5 had one of the moms, Kerri Gastineau, explain to the group how the tablets worked. That was a game changer. All the children were engaged and curious about the technology, even the children who don’t have tablets or phones to play with at home.
“Personally, I’m okay with it, because sometimes I need a babysitter,” said Gastineau. “I have three young kids and I need to be able to function and do things around the house.”
Gastineau along with the other moms in the group, all believe, technology is more helpful than hurtful in their lives. None of the moms allow their young children to play on the devices all day, but they did say, having 15 to 30 minutes of quiet time, whether at home or in the car, is a great thing.
“It’s a coping mechanism. [Playing with] blocks work, but it doesn’t work all the time so you change it up a lot,” said Krista Patterson, who owns Discover the Glow. “It’s the art of distraction.”
And it’s not just tablets, the moms admit, their kids use their phones to play games or watch shows.
“Sometimes I don’t even know how to use my iPhone and my kid will come up and say, ‘mom this is how you do it,’” said Declan’s mom, Jazmine Bruntsch, who also has 4-year-old Wyatt. “I was shocked at first, and would stress over it, but it’s what the world’s coming to, so you just let it go.”
But some argue, parents shouldn’t let it go.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time from television or devices before the age of two, saying children can’t learn from inanimate things.
We found, parents often justify the devices, saying their kids are playing educational games, but pediatricians say, person-to-person contact is the best and only way very young children can learn.
“So far they haven’t created a screen that can hold a child on their lap, read a story to them, sing to them or do anything that’s going to engage them. That requires the back and forth conversation that needs to take place,” said Jane-Ann Carroll.
Carroll is the assistant director at The Children’s Center at SDSU. The facility, which enrolls children 6 months to pre-kindergarten, has a no technology policy. There are no devices in the classrooms and only on the rare occasion will teachers use them as a “show and tell” situation.
“Such a critical part of growing up is to learn to play with your peers, negotiate conflict effectively when you have a problem, just to be able to talk to people and have your social emotional muscle pretty well developed by the time you’re in school, and devices can’t do that,” she said.
Carroll, who’s been in education for 45 years as a teacher and administrator, said “screen time” is one of the first things she asks parents about if a child has behavioral issues.
“That’s usually one of the first questions we ask. We ask how much sleep are they getting and how much screen time are getting,” said Carroll.
“There’s probably a lot of things I do that there’s some study out there that says it’s wrong, but I think [my children] are doing okay. They’re alive and we’re having a good time,” said Patterson.
“Everything is going toward tablets and screens, but I don’t think we need to be in a rush to get there,” said Nicole Hobbs, mother to 21-month old Reef. “At the same time, I don’t have any help at home so it is my babysitter for 15 minutes a day. Until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes you can’t judge. Before I had kids, I’m sure I would have had a very different attitude.”