Technology for negligent parents: A guide to ruining your child with your iPad

Guilty. I use the TV and iPad to zombify my baby. It renders him speechless, emotionless and frees me from responsibility as a parent if only for 11 minutes (the length of our favorite cartoon–one completely inappropriate for babies). It’s never for more than an hour and we go days without it on, but it happens. There. Glad that’s out in the open….sorta.

Should I allow this indulgence?  John Medina, neurologist and author of Brain Rules for Baby, says the answer is an unequivocal “no”–at least for babies under 2.

The research that screams this is not rare. In his book Medina looks at a variety of studies, but the one I will never forget showed, “for each hour of TV watched daily by children under age 4, the risk increased 9 percent that they would engage in bullying behaviour by the time they started school.”

Baby Einstein? More like Baby Hunny Boo Boo

Ack! So my inability to deal is increasing the chance Bodhi will be a bully? Wait, that’s not enough, it’s making him stupid too.

“No TV” includes content intended to be educational. University of Washington researchers found that for every hour of Baby Einstein videos watched, children understood 6-8 words less than those who didn’t watch them.

When the results were released to the news, Disney demanded a retraction of the research, but the university held its ground. Two years after the first news release was sent out Disney offered a refund to anyone who had purchased their materials. The word “educational” is now left off the packaging.

Outing myself as an ill-prepared human who takes on too much

So yes, I know all this. I knew it all before Bodhi was born, but I still let him watch TV and fiddle with the iPad. Not everyday. Maybe once a month it happens for more than an hour at a time. But it still happens. Is it hurting his development? Yes, probably. So here’s why I do it:

I am a fallible, human being who finds the end of her rope more than she ever thought possible when she dreamed up her idyllic role as a parent. I don’t find it easy being “on” all the time. My son isn’t the easiest child on the block either. He didn’t fall asleep in the car. He nurses all night. He wakes up and bolts out of bed. He won’t eat / sleep / sit if there is something slightly unusual happening (Opa visiting, a new toy in the house). He can easily stay up until the wee morning hours if there is anything interesting going on.

To add to that, sometimes I am my worst enemy. This morning, for instance, I consciously decided to take Bodhi to a Roman Catholic Church service followed by brunch at a four star hotel prefaced by a 1 km walk and followed by a 4km walk without a stroller. Oh and I have a brutal cough on top of it all. By the time we got home I didn’t care if Bodhi kept busy by eating Pop Rocks–I was done.

The two real ways to get a smart child

So I will also give myself credit where it is due. After much research and reading Medina’s book several times (essentially a lay-person’s literature review of brain development research) I chose two areas to put my energy: exposure to dynamic conversation and pretending.

For toddlers and infants the brain is developing quickly. A lion-share of studies show the greatest thing to encourage intelligence and speech is to simply speak and have conversations around your baby for as many hours a day as possible. The more words and the greater diversity of words the greater their vocabulary as they learn to speak.

The other way is imaginative play. John Medina says there is nothing better to encourage success as an adult due to pretending’s ability to increase Executive Function (ones ability to organize and stay on task). Imaginative play must be structured (i.e. no running around with swords pretending to fight all day long). Rather, it should have a theme that lasts the day and requires some research and learning. For instance, “today I am an ambulance driver–what do I need to learn to pretend that accurately and deal with my friends who all have their own persona for the day?

OK so how to finish? Here’s what I really believe: learn as much as you can about parenting that is supported by millions of years of evolution (such as attachment parenting). Ignore everything else, until you want to  leave your family–then do whatever you can to stay: do whatever you need to–manage your physical and emotional needs as best you can and don’t hurt yourself or your baby. Parenting is serious business: get through it alive and with as much love as you can. If that means watching a bit of TV in the absence of support from family and friend–so be it.

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