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How Bad Is it to Use Tech as a Babysitter?

News » Technology/Innovation

20th June 2014

Kids are annoying psychopaths with little regard for your time or patience. And the younger they are, the more trying they can be as their very survival depends on being around you every waking moment. As much as you love the little wholly dependent bags of adorableness, sometimes you Just. Need. A. Break.

I'm sure all new (and not-so-new) parents can relate to the following scenario: Your infant is crying for no reason in particular. Feeding, changing, naptime, attention, singing, pleading—nothing seems to calm them down. Well, not nothing. There is one secret trick that you know will calm their spazzy soul, if just for a little bit: Firing up your laptop and playing some familiar, brightly colored YouTube clip.

Of course, you would never do that because you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly states that children under the age of two should never be placed in front of a screen of any kind. Studies have shown that babies' development can be harmed by even being in the same room with a TV playing in the background. And media exposure for older kids should be strictly limited.

But for all those other terrible unfit parents out there who have stooped to such techniques? How bad is using the screen to calm down an inconsolable child? Likeexactly how bad?

How Bad Is Bad?

Parents of young children, let's now be honest: Many of us have—in our darkest moments of parental despair—employed the aid of some mobile-connected doodad to bring peace to our household. And, in today's Interwebbed-everythingworld, that aid is nearly always available.

Portals into the Matrix are everywhere: On ourdesks, in our pockets, curled around our wrists, and plastered to our faces. Even ourrefrigerators aren't safe. It would be a herculean task to keep little eyeballs away from screens even if we wanted to.

So, has all our modern technology condemned the next generation to perpetual brain mush?

"Studies show that exposure to screens at young ages can negatively impact language development and also raise concern about longer term impact on attention and other developmental skills," says Marjorie J. Hogan, MD, co-author of the AAP's policy statement Children, Adolescents, and the Media. "Screen take away from time reading, playing independently (and with adults), and active play."

Okay, that sounds bad. But allow me to grasp at some straws: If technology allows an otherwise dedicated parent to get some things done around the house and get a little break, is that truly the worst thing in the world?

"Distraction is fine and very necessary for parents of young kids," charitably adds Dr. Jenny S. Radesky, pediatrician and author of a recent study that investigated the relationship between media exposure and self-regulation in young children. "But I know some parents who say, 'This is the only way I get my kids to calm down or to just hand them the phone,' and that is a habit I would not recommend. Children—even from an early age—need to learn more internal ways of calming themselves down."

Okay, parents, so occasionally handing your phone over to a crying child may not be akin to serving them a big ol' bowl of ADD. However, parents should be very aware that their quest for a quick-calming method may actually be making their children fussier in the long-term.

Dr. Radesky's paper (which, we should note, analyzed data from the early aughts—before the modern smart-mobile revolution) concluded that early childhood self-regulation problems are indeed associated with increased media exposure. However, the pattern doesn't appear to be a completely one-sided case of cause and effect.

The data suggests that the relationship is a vicious feedback loop where more needy kids get more TV and therefore don't learn to self-regulate. "Some babies just come out fussier," Radesky explains. "I know parents who put their two- or three-month-old in front of the TV [to calm them down]. That baby might then get fewer of the interactions with their parents, which would actually help them learn to calm down. They get more fussy, they get more TV, so it's a cycle, a bi-directional relationship."

Article Credit: Pcmag

Updated 5 Years ago

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Tags:     Technology     Babysitting