When it comes to the arguments for and against iPads and technology among the under 5 set I fall somewhere in the middle, and here’s why. Moving overseas in 2013 with a then 18 month old, the tablet and its constant supply of Peppa Pig became a reliable source of calm in between long haul travel, hotel stints, and jet lag.
There have since been circumstances where the tablet or iPhone – loaded up with a Tinkerbell movie – has been brought out to pacify our toddler; from a midwife appointment to a day-long family photo shoot. However, these occasions are few and far between and ultimately my husband and I are against technology providing our toddler with the majority of her entertainment. You won’t find the television acting as background noise in our house, that’s not to say it’s never on – there are of course periods of time taken up with children’s TV, more Tinkerbell movies and morning news shows before my husband leaves for work. However, we like to advocate the notion of moderation with everything from chocolate to Charlie & Lola.
Growing up in homes where outdoor play, long walks, reading and make believe play were the norm, and more so encouraged by our families, both my husband and my childhoods were largely technology free. Granted, the late 80s and early 90s saw the burgeoning technological advancements of the internet, with Google and Amazon slowly coming to the fore during our teen years but those were still the days of data drudgery and dial-up.
The most exciting development I remember from my youth was the arrival of Encarta, a CD-operated encyclopaedia which held reams of information about the world, or so I thought. In some ways that should have been enough to satisfy human curiosity, limiting our boundaries to what we’d been given on one disc of knowledge instead of demanding more bites from the forbidden apple and opening ourselves up to a deluge of dangerous activity. My husband remembers the excitement of chatrooms, allowing access beyond the realms of his usual social circle. As he points out however, “I could’ve been speaking to paedophiles and wouldn’t have known.”
Both a source of information and connectivity, the internet has proven itself a breeding ground for far more sinister interests and behaviour that put children and adults alike at increased risk. However, my concern with toddlers accessing technology has more to do with their own social development at this stage than exposure to real world danger. Not just that my child will replicate behaviours I witness regularly of school-age children literally plugged in to tablet or phone uninterested in engaging with fellow mankind, but also that she will have lost the ability to entertain herself through any other means.
I credit my creativity to having spent a childhood finding outlets for it, not located within plug sockets but via tangible materials, activities and experiences. Watching my daughter spend hours at the table filling a sketch pad with colour or holding lengthy conversations with the toys in her bedroom as she acts out one scenario or another takes me right back to my own formative years. Myself trying to limit my own use of phone, tablet and computer, particularly in her presence, I find it immensely encouraging that at nearly three, she is able to find entertainment and nurture her own creativity without the aid of technology.
I appreciate that within the world we’re living, a grasp of technology is important for our children to make their way towards success in education and business; however I’m not too concerned that she doesn’t have her own electronic devices at this stage. As someone who could barely work the gears on a Nintendo, I learnt how to navigate my way round the fast-moving technology entering my reality and while I’m no computer whizz I’m perfectly equipped to exist in a world dominated by technology. Similarly, I believe my daughter will come to learn the rules of a technologically-run world when the time comes, but for now I would like to watch her progress and learn in her own way fuelled not by electronic charge but by her own imagination and creativity.