Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

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

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Looking for ways to get into the best school for you, cut tuition costs or study smarter? Here are 10 tips for improving the college experience.
updated 9:58 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Lisa Respers France
CNN's Lisa France opens up about her lifelong struggle with weight, its physical and mental toll, and what she's doing to lighten the burden.
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Bridget Cutler was still adjusting to being a new mom when she read a magazine article that changed her life.
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Hundreds of students staged a walkout in Denver, accusing the school board of trying to censor what they're taught about U.S. history.
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
People who identify as asexual feel little or no sexual attraction to other people. And as far as they're concerned, that's A-OK.
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Actress Emma Watson joins a cadre of celebrities who have used their star power to bring attention to gender issues.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
Clemson University suspends mandatory online course that asked questions about sex lives, drinking and drug use.
updated 5:13 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Does the word "virginity" evoke discussions of sexuality or religious belief? That's the question residents in Fayetteville, Arkansas, are asking after a junior high student was asked to change out of a T-shirt that read "Virginity Rocks."
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Not knowing exactly where her ancestors come from has always bothered Kelly Wallace, but she's heartened to learn about some of the famous cousins she never knew she had.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Many superstar athletes from Michael Vick to Tiger Woods were ultimately forgiven by fans and the public. Could Ray Rice also get a second chance?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
The indictment of NFL star Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges has revealed sharp differences in cultural, regional and generational attitudes toward using physical force to discipline kids.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
cara reedy
The world often treats little people like Cara Reedy as less than human. She's learned to stand up for herself and shout back.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
The unheard voices of domestic abuse spoke up on CNN iReport when Rihanna's story of abuse came to light. In light of the Ray Rice controversy, we decided to bring back these stories that are still just as powerful as the day they were told.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
More than 3 million children witness domestic violence every year, and the damage can last a lifetime.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
As media outlets Monday circulated video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator, many wondered why the woman -- now his wife -- could remain with him.
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
The ways mother-daughter book clubs can help empower girls are the focus of a new book, "Her Next Chapter."
updated 5:40 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Colleges are working to prevent sexual assault by educating students on affirmative consent, or only "yes means yes."
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
A mom questions if she wants her daughters seeing a "sado-masochistic relationship, dressed up as a Hollywood love fantasy?"
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
In 2014, why is society still so incredibly uncomfortable with public breastfeeding? Kelly Wallace gets to the root of the controversy.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Seven years ago, Barbara Theodosiou, then a successful entrepreneur, stopped going to meetings, leaving the house and taking care of herself. She grew increasingly distraught -- her two children were addicts.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 3:16 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT