The iPad Pact: Don’t Let Tablets Get a Bad Rap the Way TV Has
If you listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics, TV gets a pretty bad rap. I maintain that a little bit of it is not just OK but practically essential for us parents who live in the real world. It's those parents who leave their set on all day as background noise who really make the rest of us look bad. Still, the point is increasingly moot, because these days, my kids would rather play with iPads anyway.
Well, there's some good news. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been mostly silent on the subject of kids and iPads while they're waiting for data to come in. The AAP even has its own app, so who are they to judge?
OK, parents.This is our moment. We may have lost the TV battle, but there's time to convince the experts that we can be trusted with these wonderful new gizmos. So while the jury's out, let me suggest some guidelines for responsible iPad usage that'll keep tablets from getting demonized the way TV has:
1. Do fill your iPad with fun educational apps. iPads aren't cheap, but at least most of the apps are. Better still, there are a ton of educational apps like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Endless ABC that are fun and intellectually stimulating, too. They teach important concepts and reward kids for learning. If you have to plant a kid in front of an iPad for a few minutes, it's nice to know they're at least getting acquainted with the alphabet.
2. Don't let the iPad take over your job as a parent. Sure, your iPad can read books to your kids, but that doesn't give you the OK to stop doing it. Yes, it's great for them to hear Cinderella speak in her own voice, but that's never going to be as good as hearing Daddy's impression of her, or Mommy's take on Sam-I-Am... if only because it's good for kids to laugh at their parents once in a while. Likewise, an iPad is never going to teach your kid to ride a bike or nag him to finish his vegetables, so you're not off the hook there, either.
3. Do monitor them. I don't hover over my kids and watch everything they do on the iPad, because that would defeat the purpose of using it to help me get stuff done. But I do check in regularly to see what they're up to. After all, I don't want them resetting my high scores on Candy Crush.
4. Don't let your tablet become just another TV. My kids know how to find Netflix on the iPad, but most of the time, I limit them to using interactive apps. They usually find those more fun anyway.
5. Do let them explore. One of the most amazing things about watching kids play with iPads is how little guidance they need. The interface is so intuitive that they can usually figure out how to get it to do what they want, or at least get distracted by something more interesting while they're trying. They don't need me to micromanage every swipe of their fingers, so I don't. I just watch them, amazed at what they're able to accomplish on their own and confident that, as they grow up, they'll be able to handle the tools their generation will use to navigate technology.
6. Don't let your kid use an iPad at the playground. Yes, I've seen kids do this. It's kind of like wearing headphones to the symphony so you don't miss the baseball game. You might as well have stayed home. In the same category, if a little less offensive, are parents who let their kids use iPads at restaurants. I admit I've caved to my kids on this one a couple of times when they were extra-cranky and threatening to disrupt other patrons. In general, though, they're there to have dinner with me, not the Temple Run guy. If an iPad becomes a means to avoid interacting with your kids, then that's a problem.
7. Do disable in-app purchases. Like I said, kids are pretty good at getting the iPad to do whatever they want, and that includes downloading the $4.99 neon colors for their "free" coloring app or unlocking the $9.99 cephalopod pack for their virtual fish tank. Go to Settings -> General, enable restrictions and put a passcode on your device. Then don't tell your kids what it is! If they want to buy something, they have to get you to do it for them.
I truly believe as a parent that iPads are good for my kids -- and, I'll be honest, they're good for me, too. Without the distraction value they provide, I'd never get a chance to make a phone call uninterrupted. So let's not let the irresponsible parents ruin tablets the way they did with TV. Let's make a pact to use iPads as an enhancement to parenting, not a replacement for it.