Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about a new bouncy seat that includes a place where parents can put an iPad to occupy their baby. Is it really that different than watching TV, other than giving parents more control over content?
–iPuzzled in Watertown, NY
A: Dear iPuzzled,
The recent attention on this toy is certainly raising questions for parents, especially in the middle of the holiday season, when they are both seeking good gifts for others, and also very busy so they might welcome a devicethat keeps their baby busy! While this particular product claims to ‘stimulate and engage’ your baby with the tablet, there is still no credible evidence that electronic screens are anything more than light and sound to infants of bouncy seat age (under 1 year).
The educational and entertainment benefits of electronic screens appear to accrue only to older children who have the neurologic development to decode a screen’s 2-dimensional color pattern into an analog of their 3-dimensional world. The interactivity of a tablet may make it superior to TV as an educational technology for older children, but infants cannot touch and interact with the screen consistently enough to make it of any value to them. So what this product does is to hold the child safely in a position to have a good close look at the screen for as long as you choose to leave them there—learning to stare at a screen rather than the real world.
Humans have evolved to have the most complex and sophisticated brain in the animal kingdom in part because it is embryonic at birth. While this makes human newborns utterly dependent on others for survival, it allows us to build our brains in response to the stimuli and challenges of the environment in which they will function. What optimizes early brain development is interaction with other people (like snuggling with a parent or making faces with a sibling), creative, problem-solving play (like trying to roll a ball), and manipulating the physical environment (like knocking plastic containers together to see what noise they make). As sophisticated as they are, screen can’t provide any of these.
Putting your baby in front of a screen will distract her from observing the much richer stimuli of the world around her. Let her play with paper as you wrap gifts or hang out in the kitchen while you prepare a holiday meal. Staring at a screen may not be toxic, but it is an impoverished environment for your infant’s brain as it makes billions of synaptic connections, tripling in volume during the first 2 years.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,