Take Care Tuesday – When is Technology Too Much, Too Young?


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.

Here are some basics of the LeapBand:

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?

20 thoughts on “Take Care Tuesday – When is Technology Too Much, Too Young?

  1. You know, I don’t have kids so this should prevent he from weighing in… But of course it won’t. Growing up, we didn’t have a tv in our home. So I read, a lot (and very early). Although I have a tv now (and went a little crazy with it in college because I hadn’t had for so long), I think that a huge part of who I am today (well-read, relatively smart) is because I didn’t spend time with a tv. And I’m old enough that personal computers weren’t a reality until middle school, but even while I did play some games (Commander Keen, SimCity) it was rare when I would spend more than an hour or two doing that. I’ve always said that if I have kids, no tv (which I think will make me suffer more than them) but I don’t know what I’d do about computers. Maybe limit them until age 2, and then use them after that but for limited time? It’s a good question to think about…

    • I don’t ever believe that having kids or not should prevent you from having thoughts (nor should not being married stop your thoughts on relationships, for example).

      And I really don’t think there is a clear-cut, absolute answer – I have one kid who would love to watch and rank every movie on Netflix, and the other who watches 3 hours of TV per week (Supernatural, Grimm & Hannibal) and Doctor Who and this is the most he has ever wanted to watch! I never just turn on the TV (Lisa is at work now, TV hasn’t seen power in 24 hours), but my screen time … yeah.

      And for me … my computer-centric life also goes back to middle school – with the 1979 Apple ][+ when it was new. 🙂 I have been ‘with computer’ ever since. So Lisa has had to help me keep things in perspective with THAT as well as my running! 😀

  2. I am definitely of the opinion that many are giving their children technology and devices at too young an age. It is something that I have already discussed with my husband, and we aren’t planning on starting a family for a few years yet. There is a lot to be said for being able to entertain yourself, and to not have the instantaneous gratification that a device can provide. I learned a lot from sidewalk chalk and hopscotch. Do I use tech a lot now? You betcha, but I use it to help me be more active as well.

    • I TOTALLY agree – and the thing that really resonated with me was “being able to entertain yourself”. I was talking with two moms of young (~6-ish) kids at work, and they both talked about ‘LEGO kits’ … and how their kids would build the exact kit using the directions and that was it. I said ‘huh’? Because I grew up before kits, and with my kids we would dismantle the kit and just build freely – dump the ‘LEGO bucket’ out and see what inspiration strikes!

  3. I love this. Out here is NYC we run a sports and arts and crafts class for preschoolers. It’s an hour and
    a half and we often get asked what sports we teach the four year olds. Honestly it isn’t about sports. We run, throw balls, play imagination games, and just explore. Even the parents who want their little ones playing soccer or whatever it is are thrilled after day one. It isn’t about structure it is about playing and moving. That’s all kids need! Sometimes I envy kids. They run for hours and pant and laugh. They don’t comment on how tired they are or look at a GPS to tell you how far they ran. They just love to move. It is as simple as that.

    • We have a bunch of young kids scattered through our development and I notice that same thing – just running around, sometimes alone, sometimes with absolutely no purpose. Oh the joy … who said it needed a ‘purpose’?!?

  4. LOVED this Michael. As a newer parent, our son was not exposed to tv at all during his first 2 year, like, it was never even turned on during the hours he was awake. I know that is a bit extreme, but both Robyn and I, who both are super tech freaks and my husband, like you, is a big gamer, talked a lot about the way we wanted to raise our son and we both think that too many parents use tv and tech as a way to “babysit” their kids or keep them quiet. I won’t judge them, as I don’t walk in their shoes, but I would much rather my child learn by being actively engaged with us, rather than a device. Now that he is over 2, we will sometimes let him watch a PBS educational show like Sesame Street for 10-15 mins and while he sometimes enjoys it, I am glad he is not begging to watch tv, rather, he will ask us to read to him or sing a song or “run the stairs” with him. I know this won’t be the case forever, as technology is so ingrained in our society, but I will foster his love of learning without technology for as long as possible!

    • I think that the key is the intent; like you say some people use it as a ‘babysitter’, others don’t. As you say, every situation is different and who are we to judge absolutely. I think that the important thing is that regardless of the choice, that it is intentional.

  5. We have the TV on a lot at home, but it’s mostly for background noise and she’s not so interested in it. What she IS interested in is the iPad and I’ve been trying to limit her time with it as best as I can. Usually it’s used as a reward (like if we have had a really good potty training day or something, she can use the iPad to play with her apps for awhile which are all educational type things). Luckily now it has gotten warmer so it’s easier to limit her screen time. We would rather be out on the patio drawing with her chalk or playing on the playground than cooped up inside.

    I will admit though that my phone has been the saving grace in many long-wait-in-a-restaurant situations though.

    • I have read from different couples who were rises differently – some grew up in a TV-on house, others not. There was more of a ‘radio on’ culture in my house (my parents used to leave the radio on for the cats when we were older), but Lisa grew up in a TV morning-to-station-off household. As a result she is very sensitive to it being on, because she felt like she was competing with it as a kid. I don’t go out of my way to watch … but do enjoy it.

      As for the iPad, I look at it this way – she wants to interact rather than passively observe, and that is GOOD! We were talking about all of the computer stuff our kids had when they were little (late 90s, early 2000s) like Tonka Joe, JumpStart Preschool, and so on … loads of fun games that required imagination and interaction.

      I have no issue with kids interacting with technology … though I have to confess that if your child is wandering through a crowded place with both hands on a Nintendo DS and eyes down and you see nothing wrong with this – I’m judging you. 😉

  6. I love this topic because years ago this wouldn’t have been as big of a thing but I think in my generation as I have children this will be something that we have to battle. I think there is definitely a line of too young for technology. Look how much we already are consumed with technology I have to physically force myself away from my phone at times and we don’t want to start our kids out at a young age. Kids need limits as adults do when it comes to technology. I cut our cable and we probably won’t ever get it back simply because we get so much more down and have more time with each other than having the TV on. If we want to watch a movie we still can. It’s just another personal decision each parent will have to make but I think kids need to be more focused on being active, outdoors and family and less on technology as do adults!

    • So true, Sara – we were going to dump cable but Time Warner made us an offer we couldn’t refuse! 🙂

      But seriously, WHY is it that every year one of my goals is to ‘limit screen time’? Exactly! 😀

  7. I’m living contradiction, I have a computer science degree, make my living working on the computer, play video games, write computer programs as a hobby, write and read blogs, turn just about anything I can into a spreadsheet. And yet I consider myself a big time Luddite.

    It comes down to boundaries for me. Once I step away from the computer, it is done. Then the kid and I spend our time with pencils and paper, puppets, needle and thread, canoe paddles and hiking shoes, dog leashes, mixing bowls and licking spoons, badminton rackets.

    I can’t say for certain, and I definitely don’t judge other parenting styles, but I think that philosophy contributes greatly to the kid’s health, success in school, love for art, care for animals, zest for exploration, ability to articulate ideas and emotions, respect for nature.

    Long story short, I like to leave the iPod at home whenever possible.

    • I always go back to the thought that it is about intent and attention – about being present in the moment with the people who are actually there. If you are a person who is always glued to their device and misses things because you are distracted and then expects others to catch you up, wait, or otherwise treat you special … your children will learn from that.

  8. Wow, thanks for pointing this out! I hadn’t heard of this. You know I feel very strongly about the problem of childhood obesity and doing anything we can to fix it … but I think this is going too far. I think part of the beauty of getting kids to move is allowing them to PLAY and be kids … which is why I don’t like forcing kids to do one activity or another. I also think overly monitoring activity like this could embed the mindset of “exercise as a chore” far too early, so that kids grow up disliking it and are less likely to incorporate it into their daily routine later in life. So tough to strike the right balance. Great post!

    • Thanks Megan – totally agree, the goal should be to get kids to NOT think about things and just enjoy moving and playing. It is the cynical treatment of kids as ‘small adults’ that bothers me so much. Is the goal to strap electronic equipment on kids so we feel less bad tied to our phones while they are at the playground? I don’t know, but it definitely bugs me as well!

      Thanks so much for chiming in- you know your opinion on this stuff means a lot to me 🙂

  9. 15 minute time limit and weekends mostly with very limited weekday use is the rule for my 7 year old when it comes to electronics. Having my son changed my life completely. I took up running, lost weight and got fit so I could be an active mom. I refuse to let him be an inactive child. We hike, run together and try new activities all the time. I encourage outdoor play dates whenever possible even in the winter.

    My Achilles injury is cramping our style right now. It has been a real bummer for both of us. Although my son stays very active with soccer and friends, we are anxious to start enjoying the warmer weather together.

    • For me the big thing here is intention – in other words, different people have different time limits or none, but so long as it is what you have consciously decided it is all good. Figuring out what works is always a challenge! And so great you keep active together – doing things like that is so much fun!

      Being down when the weather is great is lousy! I hope that things with your injury resolve … I know according to your comment you are not feeling any better, so that is also not good 😦

      • Right, I should have included that this is what works for us. It is a bit of a challenge lately when my son’s friends are over and want to spend time playing video games. If it’s nice out I try to insist they play outside, but sometimes I bend the rules. I think overall it’s just important to stay mindful of what kids are doing and find a healthy balance.

      • I definitely agree on the balanced approach – when our kids were young they had friends who were ‘no tv, no video games, no ‘junk food’, etc’ … and whenever they were at a birthday party or playdate where there were those things they would go nuts. Then there were kids with no limits … and some of them would stay inside in front of the TV eating junk and expecting everyone to serve them …

        I remember more than a couple of times kids coming over for play dates bringing GameCube games (it was all the rage back then) and us saying ‘um, no … let’s go outside for a bit’. Generally they would forget the games unless they got totally exhausted and then it wasn’t a big deal if they played for a bit.

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