Too much tech
To say he was mesmerized would be an understatement. My 5-year-old son Ty had Christmas morning in his eyes as he held the new iPad 3 in his hands, fingers swiftly jumping from app to app.
And he wasn’t alone.
On a recent Saturday, he was among many children trying out Apple’s latest offerings in Park City Center in Lancaster, and I realized I was staring at the future.
My children’s generation is as comfortable with computers as I was with a pencil, and their playgrounds often are Apple Stores.
It’s the latter that inspires a discussion among parents, pediatricians, toy manufacturers and investors.
That Ty inherently knew how to navigate the latest iPad is no surprise. Some of his first toys involved computer screens, and those offerings are only growing more sophisticated.
Mattel’s Fisher Price line recently launched the Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case, retailing for $35. Essentially, it’s a colorful monkey with a plastic iPhone case attached to its belly. Once an iPhone is placed inside, a child can play with apps by directly utilizing the iPhone or pressing different parts of the monkey’s limbs.
I know it’s no accident the toy is out before fall, just waiting for Apple’s iPhone 5. Those new iPhones likely won’t be given to baby. But when parents buy their new models, their kids will most likely get their older models.
The iGeneration is a savvy one. Market research shows 6 month olds eagerly swat at touch screens, 9 month olds know how to swipe the screens, 12 month olds can properly select desired objects on the screens and 18 month olds can successfully order and start movies on Netflix better than most adults.
Realizing and accommodating this with various toy computers has helped manufacturers like Mattel grow despite an economic downturn. At last look, Mattel’s stock has risen by almost 4 percent.
And Apple may be catering to its youngest users as well. Tech insiders are reporting, among its other offerings to be announced this fall, Apple will reveal an iPad about two inches smaller than its classic versions.
It’s unclear if the mini iPad would be comfortable for smaller hands, but it would clearly compete with Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet and the fall debut of Microft’s Surface.
There are already naysayers, claiming the mini iPad will be a flop. It’s worth noting that people said the same when the iPod was launched, but I have yet to meet someone who misses their Walkman.
I know better than to doubt Apple. As the market value of all stocks among Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index grew by $282 billion during the last fiscal year, 83 percent of those gains came from shares of Apple.
Apple already knows what so many of us are afraid to admit: TVs aren’t the babysitters. Computers are.
A Kaiser study shows children ages 8 through 18 spend an average 7.5 hours a day using electronic devices. That number climbs on days school isn’t in session.
And if you’ve ever been waiting for a table, walking around a store or sitting a traffic light, you’ll notice the reflection of glowing screens near you. Children watch TV shows and movies while waiting for dinner, shopping or traveling in the car.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon to see a mom pushing a stroller, talking on the phone as a toddler holds a tablet computer.
Technology is a great teaching tool, but let’s not fool ourselves. The majority of kids aren’t using iPads to do math problems and learn how to play the piano. They’re watching cartoons and movies.
And that may be causing problems.
Children 2 years old and younger should be completely screen-free to ensure proper brain development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And all other children should spend no more than two hours a day in front of electronic devices, according to the organization.
Research shows the long-term effects of very early exposure to technology are not yet clear, and some studies have revealed a link to mental illnesses.
A University of Bristol study determined children who spend long hours in front of a computer screen are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties. The British researchers said such activities can lead to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social problems and other issues.
While many things can contribute to those maladies, I agree we need to approach the use of technology with caution and limit our kids’ exposure to it.
I love the way technology has changed my life–and it’s made it infinitely easier to do my job–but there are days I long for handwritten letters as opposed to text messages.
I’ve never wanted to be someone who needed dragged into the future, kicking and screaming, so I’ve embraced many new tech advances and carefully avoid sentences that begin with, “In my day…”
Like most things in life, it’s all about balance.
I’m OK with Ty being mesmerized by the iPad 3 because I know he also gets Christmas morning in his eyes during the first snowfall of the year, each time he sees a roller coaster, whenever he takes a bike ride, while he soars on a swing set and even when he finds a new bug.
And I will make sure his level of human connection and being loved far outweighs logging on.
Because, regardless of what new models or apps are revealed, touching a screen will never compare to the magic of touching a life.