Well, the votes have been tallied up and the winner has been decided. The award? The TOADY, given by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to the toy most deserving of our parental disdain. The competition is really tough out there, but this year the award has again gone to a toy built around a screen, the iPotty.
That is, perhaps, one explanation. It’s natural for parents to compare their children’s lives with their own and wonder whether they’re doing the right thing. We remember climbing trees when we were kids though now we’re raising our kids in a treeless desert, or we remember how much we loved our public school though we have chosen a private Montessori, or we remember the joy of eating a bologna and American cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread while we’re raising our kids whole grain vegan organic.
But most parents are pretty quick to separate silly nostalgia from serious comparison. We may expound on the delights of eating Ho-ho’s while watching Gilligan’s Island, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s the right choice for our kids. Most of us actually make choices with some amount of thought, and we know that we make compromises each and every day. If we didn’t come to peace with our compromises, parenting would lead directly to a padded cell.
There is nowhere so fraught with compromise than how we parents have allowed screens into our children’s lives. Most of us probably grew up with television, but none of us grew up with cellphones that play high-resolution video games. The change that our society has gone through is extraordinary, with today’s children facing an adult future dominated by jobs that didn’t even exist when we were kids.
My own parenting life has straddled this change. A very useful book I got during my first pregnancy reviewed various brands of baby equipment and noted that some of the companies even had websites! If I were pregnant now, I wouldn’t buy such a book—I’d be reading blogs, consulting reviews submitted by thousands of parents, and subscribing to Facebook pages.
But despite our longing for a past when our kids actually wanted to go outside and play, there’s a much bigger and better reason for parents to reject a product like this: Our small children simply don’t need screens. Every piece of evidence gathered about babies and toddlers is that they learn through human interaction with the real world. Babies who are regularly put in front of screens have measurably lower IQs. They don’t bond as well with the adults in their lives. They don’t get on the business of learning what children their age should be learning. [Read this great piece by Media Mom.]
Yes, I’m sure that some study will come out showing that babies who use iPads have quicker reflexes or learn to track small objects earlier than other babies. But that’s not the point. Babies with screens are hitting the pause button on the business of being babies. In my family, we use technology as useful tools for learning, working, and entertainment. But when technology gets in the way of life, it’s time to turn it off and get back to real life.
And how much more “real” can you get than potty training? Integrating screens into an essential physical learning process is silly at best, psychologically damaging at worst. If I had small children now, this is one compromise I personally wouldn’t be able to come to terms with. Introducing screens into the bathroom is an idea that simply…eh…stinks.