It seems like only yesterday that controversy raged about whether watching TV was good or bad for young children. The argument then moved on to the “Baby Einstein” videos and their educational claims. The “race to the top” seems to keep moving to the bottom as newly arriving so called “learning apps” target babies from birth. Now a complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, which challenges the claims made that these apps teach infants a variety of skills.
This group, which played a role in the backtracking of “Baby Einstein” from educational claims, contends that the “baby genius” industry makes such claims with no scientific evidence that proves their products provide the benefits claimed. They challenge the idea that these apps provide more than simple entertainment value, and contend that such apps may be detrimental to very young children.
Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, interviewed on PBS’s “Newshour,” says, “There really is no evidence that these apps can teach a baby anything. In fact, the research over years on educational television and other electronic screens shows that babies really can’t learn anything from a screen under the age of about 30 months.” He also says, “I think what we have found is a very convenient electronic baby-sitter,” and makes the point that the American Academy of Pediatrics has for over 10 years recommended against the use of screens for children under the age of 2.
There is no doubt that parents are using these apps, as some Fisher-Price apps have been downloaded more than 2 million times. Dr. Rich makes the point that developers of the apps have recognized that parents are using these technological devices to divert their children, and if they can claim it is educational, even if it is not, they will get sales from parents who both feel guilty and want the best for their children.
In a way, the discussion about whether these new apps are good or bad for children is the wrong one to be having. Research outcomes are many years down the road in terms of how interaction with technology affects the way the architecture of children’s brains actually develops. The point really is that the brave new world is here to stay, and it is one in which our children will be required to function. The question is not whether that is good or bad, but rather in what ways will it be different, and how do we prepare for those differences.
In many ways it is part of the discussion going on these days about young people’s use of social media, and the fact that interpersonal interactions are more and more becoming inter-technology interactions. The question asked about the apps for young children is whether they will lose the capacity to relate to real people and things, having been raised on interactions with a screen. When we ask if they will be damaged by the exposure to technology, we are really speaking from a humanistic value system that we think is superior and afraid will be lost.
Page 2 of 2 - We know the value system we have, and grew up with. We don’t know what the generations to come will be like. Undoubtedly, different kinds of personalities will emerge from the vastly different exposures provided by technologies. While accepting that fact, as parents we are nevertheless faced with the present challenge of transmitting our values to children who will live in a different world.
Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. Dr. Heffner is the author of “Goodenoughmothering: the Best of the Blog,” as well as “Mothering: the Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism.” She is a psychotherapist and parent educator in private practice, as well as a senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And she blogs at www.goodenoughmothering.com.