A smartphone is not a pacifier

CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

The Japan Pediatric Association (JPA) is concerned about a worrisome trend – parents handing over their smartphones and mobile devices to babies and toddlers to stop them from crying. The Association has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the problems with parenting via smartphone, but it may be a hard sell among Japan’s technology-loving population.

The a president of the JPA believes this trend may impact a child's development concern:

“When children become upset, many parents give them a smartphone to keep them quiet. But if parents do this, they have fewer chances to communicate through pacifying their babies while watching how they react.”

The same thing is happening in North America as households purchase more gadgets, computers, and game consoles. Now three-quarters of U.S. homes owns a mobile device, compared to a half two years ago. One study found that 70 percent of kids under age 8 have used a mobile device, a number that has doubled in two years. Forty percent of kids under 2 also use mobile devices, and all of these children are spending triple the time on mobile devices that they did in 2011 – about 15 minutes daily. Most of that time is spent playing games, using ‘educational’ apps (whose educational claims are misleading, according to some advocates), and watching videos.

Why is it a bad thing to use this miraculous instant fix for crying or boredom? Because young kids need real-life interaction with their parents, not a smartphone substitute. It seems that parenting is becoming more passive, as parents search for distractions and ways of making their job easier.

Of course it’s important to have emergency back-up plans when kids start to unravel, and smartphones are helpful in those situations.

But to rely on them daily as part of routine parenting impedes kids’ ability to interact with people, enforces bad habits, encourages them to move less, and possibly exposes them inappropriately mature content.

Screen time is actually bad for very young kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics states clearly on its “Media and Children” webpage that “television and other entertainment should be avoided for infants and children under age 2 [because] a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

Fortunately, the solution is easy! Turn it off and put it away. Sit down to read a book, pull out the building blocks, do some baking together, or go outside to dig a hole. These activities are so much healthier for a young child and will stimulate them (and tire them out) far more than a game of Fruit Ninja or Candy Crush. Smartphones may be handy, but parents need to be smarter about how they’re used.

A smartphone is not a pacifier
Crying kids need human interaction, not a mobile device handed to them as a distraction.

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