Making iPad® Time Tantrum-Free
Ah, the iPad. Load it up with educational apps and watch your toddler become happy as a clam swiping and tapping away at the colorful, blinking screen.
Happy, that is, until you try to take it away.
Tennessee mom Shelley Mickler explains. “When my 15-month-old son saw me using our family’s tablet, I could tell he was interested. One day for fun, I added this silly app revolving around popping balloons. I really thought this would keep him occupied for two minutes tops before he moved on to something else.”
Almost 25 minutes later, with her son in a “state of extreme bliss,” Mickler asked her son politely to hand her back the iPad…and then calmly counted to three…
And then things got ugly.
“Not only was it the first time he ever used a tablet, it was the first time he ever threw a tantrum! I’m talking full-out demon child, kicking the floor, screaming, wailing fit. All over popping balloons on a little screen,” says Mickler, who has not handed over the tablet to her son since this incident happened three months ago.
If you think this sounds bad, consider that in Great Britain a four-year-old girl is now undergoing treatment for iPad addiction. The preschooler in question first got her hands on a tablet computer when she was 3 years old; within a year, she was using it up to four hours per day and throwing fits when her parents tried to pry it from her tiny hands.
“The child’s mother called me and described her symptoms,” psychiatrist Dr. Richard Graham tells the UK’s Sunday Mirror about what led him to make a diagnosis of addiction. “She told me she had developed an obsession with the device and would ask for it constantly. She would become very distressed and inconsolable when it was taken away.”
OK, so not every child who uses an iPad is going to become addicted—or even have a tantrum when tablet time is over. But should these stories serve as a warning that young kids and iPads don’t mix? Here’s the complicated part: Touchscreen apps—especially learning apps—really do seem to help some children improve in such important areas as language acquisition.
For example, one study, sponsored by the Sesame Workshop, found that preschool-age children improved on a vocabulary test after using an educational learning app based on a popular cartoon character; among 5-year-olds enrolled in the study, there was an average vocabulary gain of 27 percent. A study using a different educational app had a similar result, with 3-year-olds exhibiting a 17 percent gain in language, the Wall Street Journal reports.
What about the two-and-under crowd? It could even be that tablet use defies current American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines that recommend “no screen time” for children under two, Time magazine points out. The problem with lumping tablets in with this recommendation is that when the guidelines were released in 2011, no studies involving babies and toddlers using interactive tablet and iPad apps were looked at—because they didn’t exist.
“We just don’t have the data yet,” says Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and member of the AAP, tells the magazine. However, with more than half of all young children in the U.S. having access a touchscreen device in their daily lives, it will hopefully be only a matter of time before meaningful research points the way to how much and how often—if at all—babies and toddlers should use touchscreen devices.
But what to do in the meantime? Luckily for moms like Mickler, other parents have figured out ways to make tablet time a little more tantrum proof.
For starters, “set a timer and make sure your child knows that once the timer goes off, the iPad gets handed over…you can even install an app that will automatically turn off the tablet after a certain number of minutes,” says Daniel Kerwin, an iPad fan and dad of three from Rhode Island, who says that even his two-year old gets this basic concept of time limits.
Secondly, try to be a good role model. “Think about your own tech habits. Are you constantly checking your phone? If you show restraint in how you use smart devices, your discipline might rub off on your children when it’s their turn to cut it short,” says Megan Brown, a mom in Burlington, Vermont, who admits that she sometimes falters following her own advice.
One last tech tip? Use the iPad or tablet together. “Just because a two-year-old can zip around an iPad like a Mac Genius Bar employee, I don’t think this means that we, as parents, should leave them alone with these devices,” says Kerwin, who favors treating iPad time the same as reading a book together.
“When we snuggle on the couch and play the app together, I never hear a whimper when it’s time to put the iPad away.”
And he adds, “I intend to keep it that way.”
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