Monday, March 10, 2014

We Used to Ban Books, Now It's iPads

Over the weekend, an article kept popping up in my Facebook feed.  I'm hesitant to even link to it just because it made me cringe each time I saw it, but for reference: 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.


I'm not saying that we shouldn't be concerned about things like radiation and overuse of technology, but there is more than one side to this story.  In fact, there are numerous factors to consider when we think about how much time children should spend with devices.  That being said, there is a world of difference between meaningful and responsible technology use and over use.  As with most things, there are plusses and minuses to children using devices.

Should we also ban paper books because reading for too many hours a day can lead to obesity and paper cuts?  Let's go back in time.  Twenty-five years ago, scrawny eight-year-old me lived with her nose in a book.  She read during recess.  She read in the car.  She even hid inside on warm summer days to read.  She spent hours and hours every day reading.  Should someone have taken books away from her because she was so intently focused on one thing?  Why didn't anyone worry about obesity?  What if she stumbled onto inappropriate content?  Now, one might argue that reading is a much more worthwhile activity than spending time on a handheld device, but I would argue that the opposite can also be true.  I've spent plenty of time reading nonsense.  I've also spent plenty of time using my handheld device to read, research, connect with others, and publish my work.

Am I comparing apples to oranges here?  A little bit...but I also feel that banning handheld devices for children under 12 is as extreme a view as banning pencils because they might cause carpal tunnel.
Instead of completely banning the use of handheld devices until the age of 12, why don't we educate children and adults on how to use these powerful tools in meaningful and responsible ways.  Use of handheld devices is not synonymous with overuse.  It's important to remember that not all "screen time" is created equal.

I think it's pretty clear that a bouncy seat that holds an iPad over your baby's head has great potential for misuse.  Though, the special education teacher in me can also see a lot of ways this could be used as adaptive equipment.  For the sake of this post, however, I'll go ahead and admit that this also makes me cringe.

But what about this:

Twins Skyping with their grandparents.  How exactly does bringing families together cause obesity or hyperactivity?

Here students with developmental delays are using the iPad to retell a favorite story.  This was an extremely powerful experience for children who struggle to use language.  Imagine receiving this as a parent.

This video was created using a handheld device.  Imagine how wonderful it is for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to have access to stories with sign language.

My 3.5 year old daughters used our iPad this weekend with the Tell About It app.  They loved making connections with the pictures they saw, I loved having tangible evidence of this developmental stage, and we all loved being able to share this experience with friends and family by posting it to Facebook.  Now, I'm using their work to construct an argument on my blog.

We can and should start teaching children about how to use these powerful tools early in their lives.  They can learn to use these tools to connect, collaborate, and share with the world rather than just playing mindless games.  By the age of 12, children should be able to use handheld devices appropriately in a variety of ways.  They should understand how to use them safely and effectively.  But, where will our children be if we completely ban the use of these tools until they are 12?  We don't keep books away from babies because some books contain content that is inappropriate for them.  Instead, we teach them to read starting at the level they come to us.  The same should be true for technology.  We can't lock up our devices until our children are twelve.  Instead, we need to meet our children where they are and teach them exactly how to use (and how not to use) these amazing tools.

If you are looking for resources and research on use the use of technology with young children, I highly recommend these resources:

Screen Time: How Electronic Media -- From Baby Videos to Educational Software -- Affects Your Child by Lisa Guernsey

Common Sense Media

Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media

TEC Center at the Erikson Institute

While I was writing this post, my 3.5 year old daughter asked me what I was working on.  I told her, "I'm writing a blog post to share because someone said that kids shouldn't use iPads." Without missing a beat she responded, "But little kids can use an iPad if their families help them."  Out of the mouths of babes...


  1. Perfectly said! I loved the book "Screen Time" you linked to as it was so thorough regarding various research related to tech, but also so reader friendly! Tech isn't inherently bad. Neither are books inherently good! Everything in moderation and with proper use! If you only eat bananas, they are no longer good for you. Or...if you use them to brush your hair, they will make a mess! Ok, your analogies are better than mine!

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  3. I saw that post too and it made me cringe also. I LOVE your analogy. It is smart and thoughtful and really makes you think. When ever a group of people go so hard core one direction with a point of view it is never healthy!

  4. I cringe every time I see the mentality that we should ban and hide the "bad" from our children rather than use it as a teaching opportunity. With handheld devices we have the opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about time management, self control, and safety if only we engage and not allow the device to be a substitute parent. Bane bad parenting instead.

  5. It's so interesting to me how these arguments get recycled. The same thing was said about radio. Then television. Then computers. Now mobile devices. With every new medium, we hear the same things. "What about the children?!" becomes an easy argument to cover up deeper fears about technology.