● By Rick McGarry
Parents are often unwilling to admit that they allow their young children to use digital devices. But talk to them for a little while, and the truth comes out. Here’s a discussion I had on the first day of school with a mom and her 22 month-old daughter Emma. We were near the area we call dramatic play, with toy dishes, plastic food, and a play sink and refrigerator.
“Mommy, come and stay by me.”
The mom, who had been talking to the director – me - replied, “You want me to play with you?”
“The child rolled her eyes. “No mommy, I want you to stay with me.” She patted a chair and beckoned for her mommy to sit.
Mom complied, and I followed along to see what would happen next. Although there was another child at the sink, Emma did not engage her in play. Instead, she counted out the dishes very carefully as she put them at a nearby table.
“Emma’s counting skills are amazing,” I told her mom.
“You should see her with letters,” Mom replied proudly. “Yesterday her four year-old brother was practicing his writing. He said he was writing a J, and Emma told him it was a lower case j.”
“How did she learn the letters so well?” I enquired.
“Oh, we have them on the refrigerator and she always looks at them.”
“Even the lower case letters?” I asked gently.
The mom blushed and lowered her head for a moment. When she glanced up, she looked chagrined. “Well, actually, it’s from the iPad” Mom admitted. “She’s on it all the time and she’s better at it than I am.”
I patted her hand. “That’s all right,” I told her. “As long as she does other things for the rest of the day. “Development is not just about iPad usage. It’s about balancing that iPad play with social, physical and imaginative play as well. Does she do other things?”
“Of course! She goes to the park and plays with her friends and she loves dressing up as a princess!”
“Then it’s all well and good.”
“Thank God! I thought I was raising a new Mr. Spock!”
“Nope. Just a Digitod - the digital toddler. They’re appearing everywhere in homes and classrooms.”
“Will they be okay?”
“If we take control and balance their activities, they’ll be better than okay. Just look at Emma.”
We glanced over to see Emma matching each plate with a cup as she set the table, a skill an earlier generation learned between 3 and 4.