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Too Much Tech for Tots?

As I flicked through the latest toy catalogue today I was overwhelmed with just how many techno-toys and battery-operated devices and gadgets are now available for babies and toddlers.

 

Yep, we now have teddy bears with mobile phones attached to their paws and pretend tablet devices for babies. Tablets for babies…whaaaaat?

 

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And if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have the iPotty and the Apptivity Seat. Don’t believe me, click below.

 

 

Now don’t get me wrong, my children do have techno-toys. We’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by a talking teddy bear and thought we had a burglar in the house, haven’t you? So I’m not suggesting that techno-toys are ‘bad’. Not for one minute. They definitely have their place. But do we need to introduce babies and very young toddlers to these devices?

 

This latest toy catalogue has got me thinking.

 

Have we crossed the line?  Are we introducing technology too early?  Are we ‘technologising’ all aspects of childhood?

 

Or is this simply a reflection of our techno-obsessed society? It’s natural that children want digital replicas of our adult devices. Hey, it used to be the toy replica of the lawn mower, or the plastic high heels. So perhaps this just a natural progression.

 

But there are increasing, and in my opinion, worrying numbers of gadgets and devices marketed towards parents of babies and toddlers.  Any what’s even more alarming for me as a children’s brain and technology researcher are the misleading marketing claims.  In many instances, the marketing materials suggest that the early introduction of these techno-toys and gadgets is advantageous for little ones.

 

Make your child smarter. Increase language skills. Teach your baby old how to recognize letters, shapes and colours.

 

The claims go on and on and but are often not substantiated by research.  Marketing hype often persuades parents to buy, buy, buy.

 

As you know, I’m an advocate for young children using technology..  So I’m certainly not a Luddite or anti-technology, in any way.  Absolutely not the case at all.

 

I firmly believe (and have the research evidence to substantiate these claims) that young children can and do benefit from technology. But there’s a caveat: the technology has to be used in developmentally-appropriate ways.

 

So I question whether babies and toddlers really benefit from techno-toys and gadgets.  Is this really developmentally-appropriate?

 

Do little ones really need a teddy bear that holds a mobile phone?

 

I just don’t think so.  The latest neuroscience tells us that babies and toddlers need simple things for optimal brain development. The research is calling it ‘ancestral parenting’ which is basically how our grandparents raised our parents.  It’s the basic things that developing brains need (not flashing devices that ping, beep and flash).

 

Developing brains need:

  1. Develop attachments to their carer (goo-ing and gah-ing with mum or dad or grandparents: not pre-programmed voices that respond to touch);
  2. Physical movement (crawling and climbing: not a bouncer that has a tablet attachment dangling over the baby’s face);
  3. Serve-and-return interactions with adults (yes, even ‘parentese’, that high-pitched way we often talk to babies is beneficial: not a device that that parrots words to a baby)
  4. Sleep (I don’t need to tell parents how vital this is…for everyone)
  5. Good nutrition (this is a whole new topic on its own)

 

So I’m not sure how techno-toys and gadgets fit into this picture… especially for babies and toddlers.

 

Given that little ones are awake for such a limited number of hours each day, I think that we really need to optimise this time.  Giving them battery-operated devices, all the time, isn’t the best use of their wakeful hours.  (Now don’t go and throw out all of your battery-operated, techno-toys for your baby or toddler- that’s not what I’m suggesting. I have them and use them every now and then.)

 

Instead, I’m proposing that we don’t need to feel obliged to buy these devices for our little ones.  Ignore the marketing pressure and hype. You’re not increasing their IQ when you give them a techno-toy. You’re not increasing the chance that they’ll get into Harvard if they have early access to a tablet device before they can independently sit up.

 

Instead, the best toys that you can give your baby or toddler are your time, wooden blocks and space to explore and move.

 

A simple rule when it comes to picking toys for little ones (even slightly older children), is that it should be 90% child and 10% toy. With a lot of techno-toys it’s 90% toy and 10% child.  The toys do a lot of the thinking and exploring for the child. This isn’t what babies and toddlers need.

 

So save yourself some money. Don’t feel obliged to buy the newest gadget or techno-toy from the catalogues that claims it will help your baby or toddler learn.  Sit them on your lap, or give them a set of blocks and know that this is exactly what they need.

 

I’d love to know in the comments below, what toys does/did your baby or toddler like? Do you feel pressured to buy techno-toys?

 

 

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I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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