I don’t think iPads are better than mothers. I don’t think iPhones are better than mothers either.
I love my iPhone. I doubt that there are many people on Planet Earth who love and appreciate the genius of the iPhone any more than I do. When it’s bad boy little brother arrived – the iPad –I knew the minute I saw him that he would change everything, and he has.
Yes, the benefits and the potential of the device cannot be underestimated. I love tools and this is, and can be, a great tool, perhaps one of the greatest.
I don’t know why it is so, but when a new tool is created and it has great promise, we very quickly seem to find every way to sabotage or subvert that promise.
The last time we were in teaching in Singapore, we could not help but notice that every mother keeps her iPhone and her iPad close at hand. If the baby in his stroller yelps with joy at some sight or starts to complain, he is immediately handed the iPhone or the iPad. Some mothers pause to select a game such as the breaking balloon game, where the baby will spend an alarming amount of his time bursting balloons that appear and break right on cue.
The same baby given a real balloon would break enough balloons to learn whatever there was to learn from that activity and then move on to something new, but in the virtual world of breaking balloons, the frequency, intensity, and duration is timed perfectly to keep the baby ensnared for as long as possible. Now mother can sit down in the park and text or talk on her iPhone to her heart’s content.
The best babysitter in the world–the iPhone–is doing his job.
I watched many babies and mothers that day in Singapore–not one mother talked to her baby to find out why he was crying; not one mother took her baby out of the carriage to walk with him, or sing a song with him, or show him an orchid, or point out a bird, or read him a book. There was no real interaction between these babies and their mothers. None.
Does that sound like a good idea or a bad idea?
Do we really believe that the baby is better off bursting balloons than talking to us? Don’t we have more to offer the baby than this? Do we really believe that we are better off texting our friends or talking on the phone when we are taking our babies for a walk in the park? Do we not want to have a real relationship with the baby where we discover who he really is, what he really needs, and what he really wants?
Isn’t this what life is all about, or did we miss something?
One of our grandmothers told us she takes her granddaughter to story time at the library each week. Her granddaughter loves to cuddle on her lap to listen to the stories for 30 minutes–but many of the other two-year-olds are pushed into story time in their strollers and there they stay while Mother sits elsewhere using her iPhone.
Fifteen years ago, before there were iPhones and iPads, we created the Picture Dictionary CD-ROMs. They were unique in the world. They were the very first application that could be used independently by a three-year-old to learn hundreds of Bits of Intelligence in five different languages. They were, and are, one the most beloved items in our Better Baby Store.
Why did we create the Picture Dictionary?
We knew that our mothers and fathers were doing a superb job with their children creating Bits and teaching them. Nothing will ever be better than the materials that mothers and fathers custom make to exactly fit their own child’s interests. But dinner has to be made and the laundry needs to be done as well, and the shopping and the cleaning and everything else. Life happens. We wanted to give mothers and fathers a wonderful tool that they could offer to their child to use independently whenever parents had to be doing something else–not a replacement for mother and father, but in addition, and so the Picture Dictionary was born.
We never imagined that the mind-numbing games created for adults and young adults would find their way on to phones and tablets, and that innocent babies would be the targets of the new games. If a twenty-year-old wants to spend his time shooting at people on a screen, that is his choice, but to use the same technology to entrap a baby into wasting his precious time is simply not OK.
The brain loves color, the brain loves action, the brain has a very particular system response-time delay, and the baby, who is a genius at cause and effect, will be especially vulnerable to manipulation when these elements are understood and employed correctly.
I mention our Singapore mothers because I was lucky enough recently to spend an entire weekend observing them. I believe the story would have been the same in Tokyo, Sydney, or Philadelphia.
Mothers are the best teachers the world has ever seen.
The television, the radio, and the iPad will never, ever replace Mother in her baby’s eyes. Yes, these devices have a time and a place in the life of the child, but not the time and place they are now being given.
The only thing powerful enough to harm mothers right now are mothers themselves.
Let’s put away the beloved iPhone and the bad boy iPad and get back in touch with the baby. Why not? He needs us right now more than ever, and to tell the truth, we need him too.