Megan had her impressions of the Polar Loop this week, in which she talked about why she enjoyed the Loop, but also asked about the wearable fitness device trend in general. Almost on cue, that same day LeapFrog, makers of technology products for young kids, announced the LeapBand fitness for kids.
The question I have is – are we pushing technology on kids too early?
It should not be a surprise that kids are more sedentary than in any previous generation, and that in general the obesity and diabetes rates have increased along with the decrease of kids’ playtime. More specific to technology, there have been loads of studies on the impact of screen time, and a couple of years ago some major studies linked excessive screen time to attention problems. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“According to the group’s Council on Communications and Media, parents are officially recommended to “discourage screen media exposure” for children under 2.
The main issue for pediatricians isn’t eye strain associated with electronic devices, nor tablet computers’ negative effect on kids’ vocabulary, though certainly both are concerns. Says the AAP, “excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”
The group notes that by age 8, the average child gets 8 hours of screen time per day – time that could be better spent staying active.
When I was at my fraternity reunion, I talked with a number of friends with young kids – and most of them have fairly unrestricted access to a number of mostly iDevices. iPads mostly, for watching TV shows, movies, playing games and so on. And even at early ages they already had pretty broad access. For them, ‘getting strict’ means changing the unlock code on the iPad. Sure that is overgeneralizing and cherry-picking from conversations – and makes them seem like bad or irresponsible parents. That isn’t my intent. Stick with me for a minute.
The LeapBand, designed for kids ages 4 to 7, gives kids commands like “wiggle like a worm” or “pop like popcorn” and then rewards the activity by giving points that can be used to unlock special game features on the band. When kids get a certain amount of points, they can redeem a virtual pet like a cat, dog, donkey or unicorn. Additional points are accrued to let children interact with their pets in different ways.
First off, I am surprised … surprised that Leap didn’t have this out in time for Christmas this past year!
But seriously – I have two thoughts:
– First, once again I applaud anything that gets your kids moving.
– Second, why are we relying on an electronic device for kids who are preschool – first grade age?
Here is my basic premise: we need to back off looking for a gadget as our answer for everything, and instead encourage them to step away from the iPad and run around outside using nothing but their imagination; and in the winter ditch the pre-fab kits and just dump a bucket of LEGOS on the floor for all of them to play with.
The thought of an 8 year old spending 8 hours of screen time per day absolutely saddens me; I do believe that they should have SOME screen time daily – I mean, I am a VERY strong advocate of technology and the power of learning through gaming. But I am not a supporter of passive absorption of content in place of active engagement.
Think about books vs. TV – in books you create the scene, the setting and the characters, whereas on TV it is all spelled out. One absolutely requires more imagination and active engagement than the other – that isn’t even a point for debate. Have you seen popular book characters such as Harry Potter drawn by kids? They are widely varied based on the imagination – but once the movies arrived they all look the same.
So while I think it is great that Leap (I think they’re a great company, by the way, with loads of fun creative play products reaching back to when my kids were little) is doing something to help engage and get kids moving – what they’re doing is treating the outcome rather than addressing the root cause.
Kids LOVE to move, to play, to imagine, to create … and what we as adults should be doing is seeking opportunities to encourage them to do just that. There will always be time for screens after active play.
What do YOU think?