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What's wrong with using tech to distract kids?

By Bunmi Laditan, Special to CNN
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Giving kids a little one-on-one time with Thomas the Tank Engine can be useful for parents, writer Bunmi Laditan says.
Giving kids a little one-on-one time with Thomas the Tank Engine can be useful for parents, writer Bunmi Laditan says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A recent study says parents use tech devices to 'babysit' children
  • Columnist Bunmi Laditan says "So what?" Tech can be useful
  • Laditan says such studies often serve to convince parents they're flawed
  • Studies that sound alarmist should be taken with a grain of salt, she finds

Editor's note: Bunmi Laditan is a parenting writer and the keeper of the Honest Toddler twitter feed and blog. Her book, "The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting," is available now.

(CNN) -- "Half of Parents Admit to Using Tech as Baby Sitters," the headline shouted in bold, alarmist Helvetica. As I sat staring at the words, I knew I was supposed to feel some kind of outrage, but all I could muster was a "so what?"

I kept reading: "New research from the leading money saving website in the U.S. has discovered that the majority of American parents have used their tech gadgets as a means of "baby-sitting" their children before, with the average occurrence being twice a week."

Twice a week? These kids are on Mom's iPad or fumbling with Dad's Android twice a week? Someone call Child Protective Services, stat!

The best parents know that if their kids are awake, they must be engaged in a papier-mache craft, baking organic biscotti or locked hand in hand with their caregiver singing "If All Raindrops Were Lemondrops and Gumdrops."

Bunmi Laditan
Bunmi Laditan

The study, conducted by couponcodes4u.com, polled 2,403 American parents of children ages 2 to 13, most of whom said they have devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs and game consoles at home: 27% of respondents said they allowed kids to access tech devices on a daily basis; 22% on a weekly basis; and 19% said they do it "occasionally"; 18% said they rarely did; and 15% said never.

"Furthermore, when asked if they often used their tech gadgets to effectively 'baby-sit' their children (keep them occupied so the parents didn't have to), the majority, 58%, said that they did, while 25% admitted that it 'depended' on the situation," the study goes.

It's one thing to have your kid play on your phone so much they develop juvenile carpal tunnel syndrome, it's quite another thing to allow them to be -- I don't know -- modern kids.

I'd like to know why the term "baby-sitting" is being used. A baby sitter is someone you pay to fully care for your child so that you can peel out of the driveway. The Thomas the Tank Engine app can't do that. In fact, any mom, dad or caregiver who has handed a child a device with the intention of getting a moment's peace knows that it always backfires.

Toddlers and technology: Good or bad?

"I can't win the game -- can you help me?"

"This app is boring/not working/needs $4.99 and your iTunes password for the full version."

U.S. parents not worried about kids' digital-media use

Do children younger than 5 even engage with devices for more than 14 seconds at a time before making you regret not buying that extended warranty?

I grew up playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. on my Nintendo. As the second born, I always had to be dorky Luigi to my big brother's Mario -- I found this far more damaging than being exposed to electronic entertainment. While we were upstairs using our Italian avatars to rescue the princess, our parents were nowhere to be seen. Could they have been (gasp!) having a moment to themselves?

In an age of parenting extremism, studies such as these play to insecurities.

We can't go a full week without an organization dramatizing its findings into a sensationalized article. In an age of fear-fueled parenting, this "research" throws gasoline on an already raging bonfire of guilt and judgment.

When The New York Times reported on a 100% tech-free private Waldorf school in northern California, some parents panicked.

The article painted a picture of a utopia full of young geniuses. All of a sudden, the masses were asking themselves, "If those successful Silicon Valley parents had chosen a school where motherboards were banished, do they know something we don't?"

Molding the next generation of computer scientists

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Many Waldorf schools also don't allow children to wear black or color with black crayons because according to the pedagogy's founder, Rudolf Steiner, it is the "absence of color" and somehow detrimental to the learning environment.

Perhaps instead of chasing current parenting fads, we need to find a sense of balance that works for our particular family.

We're creating a perfect storm of parental neurosis fed by anecdotal data cleverly masked as universal truth. The best thing we can all do as we're bombarded with seemingly urgent material for our consumption is to read it all with a grain of locally sourced Himalayan sea salt.

What's that? You don't live in the Himalayan mountains? That's sad because a recent study just named it the best place to raise kids.

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