Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s a Tablet
Another victory for alarmist journalism! Yesterday, the tech journals exploded after Nielsen published data suggesting that 7 out of 10 children in tablet-owning households used tablets in late 2011. Predictably, the press focused on the negative, particularly how parents appear to be using tablets as makeshift babysitters.
It’s hard not to be troubled by findings like this. Continued long-term use of technology, combined with less social interaction, may lead to a generation of socially inept techno geeks. This sounds outlandish, but people of my generation already recognize the effect that social media has had on our ability to interact socially. It’s not impossible that future generations of young people will become more uncommunicative in public and less capable of connecting in socially rich environments.
But the good must be weighed with the bad. While putting your child in front of a tablet for a few hours sounds horrible, it isn’t any worse than the generations of Baby Boomers who sat their children in front of television screens. Tablets, unlike televisions, are far more interactive experiences. Children can draw pictures, play games (their preferred tablet activity according to Nielsen), watch programs, and communicate with others through social media (the implications of this aside). Tablets, in other words, possess educational possibilities that television can’t match.
What we can take away from this study is that parenting has changed dramatically along with technology. However, it’s not that technology has changed parenting. Technology changed our economy. This, combined with women’s move into the workforce, has forever changed parenting. Parents are busier than ever. With less time spent at home, more stress and less disconnect from the workplace, parents have less time to spend with one another and with their children. Tablets are, like television before them, just another convenient technology to keep the kids quiet and occupied for a few hours. Before you jump on the parents and our changing culture, take a look at what’s really driven this change: the workplace.
Remember though that tablets have enormous educational potential. If tablets, unlike televisions, can get young children to think more creatively and abstractly, I don’t care if parents are leaving them with their kids. The kid pictured above may some day create software or design an app that saves thousands of lives. Until then, perhaps we should hold off judging parents too harshly. But before I go, watch this video of a two year-old interacting with and navigating his father’s iPad.