Thinking About iPads from a Parent’s Perspective, by AnnMarie Hurtado

Much has been said already about the impact that iPads are going to have on the way twenty-first-century children will approach education. Tablets aren’t just going to change the materials children use to learn, but also the ways in which children approach learning. Studies are already surfacing that suggest ebooks may have a detrimental impact on children’s reading comprehension skills. This is worrisome enough, but up until recently I hadn’t seen a lot of discussion about the potential impacts on a child’s development of creativity and imagination.

Then via the LittleeLit Think Tank, I came across an article written by Olof Schybergson entitled “The Generation Raised on Touchscreens Will Forever Alter Tech Design.” The article itself doesn’t offer much food for thought, unless your business is in tech or product marketing. But if you’re interested in the potential impacts of iPads on children’s cognitive and creative development, read the comments.

There was a particularly intelligent comment signed by a psychologist/teacher named “Teacher Tyler”—I urge you to read the entire comment here:

“[W]hat I’ve seen is that there is a MAJOR difference in children who have been put in front of a screen at early ages… [K]ids are being entertained by their ipads/tablets/screens verses creating the environment using their imagination around them… thus leading to an era where kids want the environment to stimulate them, instead of the child making their environment stimulating. This is huge. I’ve seen…countless children go from sociable to sitting in chairs looking for things in their environment to entertain them. I’ve yet to completely understand how this cohort develops into emerging-adulthood, give me 9 more years, but I feel that its going to be limited because of a lack of imagination due to a screen environment.”

When I read Tyler’s comment—especially the part about children being limited by a lack of imagination because of their screen media usage—I felt frightened, and a little conflicted.  I am a librarian starting monthly appvisory programs at my library, and I am also a parent of a four-year-old who has been using iPads since the age of two. I have always read books to her and have always done a lot of play, singing and interaction with her. When she uses the iPad, I frequently use it with her. We love apps like “Presto” and “Puppet Pals,” and we make up funny stories and watch the apps transform our voices or our pictures into hilarious sounds and images.

Although I believe I’m using the tablet in the best possible way with my daughter, I have to confess I sometimes have misgivings about even letting her play with iPads.

It’s true she becomes less social after she’s spent some time playing alone with one. (No, I am not always interacting with her every single time. Sometimes she does use the iPad alone, because I am human and I still need to wash dishes or cook dinner every now and then.) Occasionally, she has sudden outbursts of hyperactivity or tantrums after having spent time with the iPad. She even went through an aggravating phase of thinking books were “boring” because there were no exciting sounds or video clips embedded in them. Sometimes, as punishment for bad behavior, I take the iPad away for a few days. I’m usually glad for that break, because her behavior is noticeably better and she’s more social and engaged.

In general, I think my daughter is turning out to be a smart and imaginative kid. But I’m still worried that screen media might stunt her creative growth. That’s scary for a parent. Everybody wants their children to have the best possible foundation for life, and hearing that screen media may limit their children’s development (even if it’s still by no means proven) is more than enough to give a parent pause.

If I didn’t have enough Mommy guilt to deal with, there’s my professional involvement in this trend of iPad use in libraries. Sometimes I worry about my role in promoting that among kids, and wonder if I’m on the “right side of history.” But then I remind myself that there’s no going back. Doing appvisory in the library is becoming as necessary as any other kind of media curation or reader’s advisory service.  Tablets and smartphones are here to stay.

However, I feel a strong pull to tell parents, “Before you download another app, make sure your kids are also running around your backyard, reading books, and drawing pictures with pen and paper. Make sure they’re interacting with the REAL WORLD and bringing stories to life with their own minds.”

For now, I will continue to play with my daughter and give her experiences that will develop her imagination. And I’ll look out for Teacher Tyler’s master’s thesis. As both a parent and a librarian, I’m anxious to see what his research will uncover.

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on July 23, 2014, in Digital Native and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Juliane Morian

    Great food for thought, thank you for posting this! I am a librarian and parent as well. I’m not too concerned with the amount of screen time I allow my children to have (within reason) perhaps because I’m resigned to the fact their cohort will be radically different than mine. As your citation points out, since we do not yet “understand how this cohort [will] develop into emerging-adulthood” I’m hesitant to judge their social or comprehension skills in a negative way. What concerns me more, are the adults they will inevitably encounter that will measure them against a standard of socialization, comprehension, aptitude, etc. codified in THEIR generation and not my child’s.

    As a librarian and administrator I want to soak up as much information as I can about how this new generation learns and forms new ideas/thoughts (*because* of the TV, iPad, smart phone, etc.) and try to adapt my library to fit their needs.

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