How do you get your child to put down the iPad?

There’s a pretty amazing story about the night that Steve Jobs met Andy Warhol – at Sean Lennon’s ninth birthday party, four years after the tragic death of his father. Jobs had brought a present for Sean – a six-inch black-and-white monitor (one of the first Apple computers) and a mouse. Sean was transfixed. (So was Andy Warhol!)

The computer at that point was mostly limited to academics, and children would have almost no context for what to do with one – although Sean, because of the intuitive nature of Apple products, picked it up pretty quickly. He drew a lion, a camel, and a figure he said resembled Boy George.

That story took place in 1984. A lot of it resonates in American living rooms in 2014: Apple created a string of intuitive products, including the iPad. Their tablet is so intuitive, in fact, that oftentimes a child as young as one can pick up its functionality fairly quickly – and in the process, have access to a wide variety of games, videos, interactive elements, and general fun.

Here’s the problem: the images and sounds are tempting, and since mom and dad seem mesmerized by them, young children don’t want to put them down.

What do you do if they won’t stop using it?

Here are a few ideas around this challenge:

Set an Example: One of our goals at Primary Book Club is to create a culture around reading, literacy and learning in the home. As a parent, you set the example. Consider setting a daily “no screens” period: pure, quality family time, and having “screen free” zones in your house to limit temptation. As you design your family’s iPad usage, think about your own usage. If you’re on it all the time in front of your child, it sends the wrong message and makes the inevitable “I need you to get off the iPad” to your child more confusing and (likely) more tantrum-inducing.

Set Clear Rules: Simply, you should limit your child’s usage per day/night, and be consistent about this. Screen time should be determined by the parents. If you need guidance on the amount of time appropriate for your child, we suggest you take a look at the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.) It is very important this is strictly enforced on a consistent basis. There are apps you can install that will automatically time out a child after a certain amount of time, as well – try Kaboom or simple iClock functionality for this. You can learn more about child-proofing and timing here. With younger children, try communicating limits in terms they can understand, such as “you can watch one episode of Mighty Machines.” You might also consider giving them a 5- and 2- minute warning to ease the transition to the next activity.

Supplement it with Conventional Toys and Board Games: Once they discover their favorite parts of the iPad and you take it away, children will get upset. But the 0-5 brain is also uniquely suited to shift to a different activity, post-potential tantrum, and that can involve traditional toys (trucks, blocks, dolls, etc.) or board games. Some believe the board game industry was massively disrupted by the increase in technology, but there’s actually a renaissance in the space. Board games often involve a degree of critical thinking or strategy that can be essential to development at an early age, especially if a parent or caregiver is guiding the process. Toddlers may be a little young for board games, but modifications to games like ‘Memory’ using only four cards at a time are a great way to get started.

Supplement it with Books: This is where we come in, but regardless of how you’re getting books or using them, you should try setting aside some time to read with your child every day. You might consider having time carved out to spend with your child, dedicating a portion to reading and a portion play. In the earliest years, most of a child’s learning comes through play. Plus, if a child is having fun while reading, they are more likely to develop positive associations with the activity.

It all goes back to No. 1 above: setting an example. If you are seen reading, and you have dedicated time each night where you read, and reading is seen as both fun (not a chore) and important, your child will come to love the process and seek it out on their own. That’s the best way to achieve victory over the iPad – because the child wants to put it down themselves in order to go read.

It’s even possible Steve Jobs may have agreed.

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