Are you a new parent? Well, if so, you might still be overwhelmed at times and sleep deprived all the time. Another universal parent emotion is wanting the best for your child. As a parent, you want the best for your child–to provide your child with the latest and greatest if that’s what it takes. The drive to do everything in your power to insure that child of yours has what they need to succeed is strong…and you know who else knows that? Marketers.
Even before Facebook allowed the personal data of its users to be collected, sold and used by…well, by who knows whom or how many, Madison Avenue-types knew just how to hook parents into what they were selling. Over the last few decades parents have been sold all kinds of products with the implicit—and sometimes explicit—promise of making children smarter. With those kinds of promises, it’s not surprising parents opt for products they feel will boost their baby’s or child’s brain power.
Sadly, the warning: Caveat emptor (Buyer Beware) even applies even to children’s toys. (I know! Is nothing sacred?!!)
IT STARTED WITH MOZART
Classical music—what’s not to like? A very small study of college students somehow was used as the impetus for the creation of a whole new field of baby and/or children’s products—ones that purportedly increased their intelligence—and subsequent, massive marketing campaign to sell those products was born.
Do you remember Baby Genius and the Mozart effect of the 90s? The belief in the Mozart effect was so strong that some states gave mothers of newborns CDs of classical music while others required licensed day care centers to pipe in classical music. Even though I’m a fan of classical music, the Mozart effect (ie, listening to classical music en utero or as young children) in an effect to boost their IQ has not been able to be proven. WHAT would be helpful in your child’s cognitive development and musically related? Introducing your child to making music by playing an instrument!
Go to a toy store and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a toy that’s wholly dependent on the child. Inevitably there are flashing lights, bells and whistles. It annoys me beyond belief! Often manufacturers have created a ‘smart toy’ by going high tech on the toy. Where, once it would have been a toy requiring active engagement from the child, it, more often than not, turns into a flashy, noisy mess of sensory overload. Additionally, pressing buttons and getting the same result over and over and over does nothing for a kiddo’s development—it actually hinders their development. The very thing that characterizes most of these toys—the flashiness and constant noise—is the thing that makes it difficult for children to focus and concentrate. Parents need to be aware of what they’re buying into and bringing into their homes.
With the new millennium, the tech revolution in education was in full force. The stated goal was to have a computer on every desk—ways to fulfill that varied from district to district. I remember my kids’ elementary school having a computer lab—instructed by another of the many specialists schools use now.
The promise of the computer was improved student performance. Did it live up to that promise? Well the answer to that is up for debate—with those decidedly against stating student performance has actually suffered and those in favor highlighting the benefits of harnessing technology. I take a decidedly skeptical view on everything and always consider the source and/or who’s funding a study or project–you know, just like Deep Throat from Watergate fame when he said: Follow the Money.
Now, not only computers are on every desk and in every home, but essentially there are computers in every hand with the advent of smartphones. Prior to the Facebook debacle, apps were where it was at from a developers standpoint. And paid apps in the education category was best of all!
Data from 2012:
● Over 80% of the top selling, PAID, apps of the iTunes store were directed towards children.
● Apps for toddlers and preschoolers are the most popular age category and have experienced accelerated growth.
Can you guess a characteristic common to most of these learning apps? Yep, it’s the same thing educational toys incorporated to grab new parents’ attention: going high tech with the flashing lights, bells and whistles. Yet we know these superficial enhancements should really be seen as distractions; they do nothing to develop a child’s ability to focus, concentrate or stay on task.
Another inherent drawback of using apps is its never-changing nature. Children change as they grow and learn—they are not static individuals. This is one reason why human interaction, as with teaching, is so successful.
Parents, being their children’s 1st and most important teachers, know how to gauge what is appropriate for their child—when a task is too easy they can include more or if it’s too difficult, they can work on or review skills when presented with something challenging.
Unfortunately, parents are given the impression—an erroneous one—that their participation isn’t required, that their children will learn from using these learning apps alone.
Children have been protected since 1990 with the passing of the Children’s Television Act. This Act protected them from inappropriate commercialism via advertising commercials associated with shows geared towards minors. With the pervasiveness of screens in our Digital Age, has the time come for more (formal) protection with governmental oversight and/or policies to protect our children? Or does this fall into the broad swath of parents’ rights regarding how parents raise their own children? How can parents be fined for letting their kids play outside in their own yard but then wonder when people think there should be limits placed on the amount of screen time their child uses?
Screen usage is a hot-button topic. Parents need to wade through all the educational toys and/or learning apps out there, disregarding the emotionally appealing marketing techniques. They need to be a filter; finding products that truly are aligned with developing children—not necessarily earlier, but to their fullest potential.
Best practices for early childhood education recommend children are provided materials, experiences and interactions which will allow them to understand concepts within a context; that will engage them meaningfully—stretching their boundaries to the fullest in all areas of development. For example, children learn when they are actively involved in the process; when they understand the usefulness or purpose of what they’re doing; and when they realize how it fits in to the greater scheme of things. Technology, in the form of educational toys and/or learning apps, is one of many tools to be used in education, not a substitute or replacement for the one-on-one guiding, mentoring, teaching that parents and educational professionals provide.
Yours in Play!