Resisting the digital pacifier

Published: Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.

As my daughter Kate has become more verbal and aware of the world in the past few months, she's become a bit of a tyrant.

She's just shy of 1 1/2 years old, so her tyranny is pretty tame. She's just more demanding that she get her hands on everything that mom and dad have — whether that means our food, glasses or smart phones.

Especially smart phones.

Nothing is quite as alluring to her than the shiny display of an iPhone. Other parents today have obviously realized the same thing, as shown by the number of mobile devices used as digital pacifiers in restaurants and other public places.

It's sad enough to see adults at a restaurant communicating via texts or Facebook rather than talking to the people sitting across from them. But it's really depressing to see tiny kids mesmerized by the flickering images on an iPad.

Or it used to be depressing. Now I'm starting to see the appeal.

As Kate was throwing a prolonged tantrum the other morning, I had enough. I gave her an iPod touch and played a cartoon.

This, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a no-no. It discourages any television or other electronic media for children under age 2.

But this advice is clearly being ignored. Ninety percent of parents report that their children under 2 years old watch some form of electronic media, according to research cited by the academy.

I watched plenty of "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" growing up, so I ‘m no media puritan. But today's media universe includes entire channels like Disney Jr. that specially target young kids. And there's something about mobile devices that provokes obsession.

I want my daughter to appreciate quiet and nature rather than needing to be constantly entertained. Yet I fear turning electronics into such a forbidden fruit that she eventually becomes the kid whose parents wouldn't let him drink soda, so he tries to down every Coke in the house when he visits friends.

So would it harm her development by exposing her to electronics too early? Or is it setting her up for failure to not teach her at a young age how to use devices that will only be more ubiquitous as she gets older?

I have a hard time buying the latter, as she'll have plenty of classmates able to tap touch screens but fewer capable of complex thought or holding a real conversation with an adult.

The academy cites research suggesting electronic media can cause language delays in children under 2, but also conflicting studies on how it affects their development. The research gets even more contradictory for older children, with a number of studies suggesting that high-quality programs have value.

It's all about setting limits, of course, and setting a good example. But maybe that's the root of my fear: I'll have to get my own face out of mobile devices to lead the way.

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