The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies and toddlers under the age of two avoid all screen time in order to allow their brain to develop properly. Study after study have arrived at the same conclusion – it's more important to have human interaction than zone out on educational television.
And that's precisely what makes AT&T's newest offering in its U-verse television service so controversial. It's a “second screen” app that allows babies or toddlers to create pictures on an iPad or iPhone that appear on your television screen by tuning into the BabyFirst channel. While they call it educational, many parents are questioning this claim.
What They Claim
So why is it AT&T feels their app is so educational? It's kind of silly, really – babies can make a picture using a menu of colors, shapes, and animals. Somehow, they feel that it helps baby develop hand-eye-coordination as well. It must be because the baby has to reach out and select a color. But if you've ever had a baby or even cared for a baby, you know that the “selection” process is more random than anything.
AT&T issued a press release that describes the app, which states the app was created by child development experts. Even worse is the fact that they tout the fact it was tested extensively by babies and toddlers themselves. Two things: what child development “expert” would agree to work on such a project; and since when did babies become reliable testers?
We'll get to the real issue, the first question raised, in a moment. For now, let's look at the fact that babies probably don't make the best testing subjects. Yes, I know the app was geared towards babies, but it isn't really a great idea to dub them “discerning clientele.” If you've spent time with a baby, you'll notice that just about anything can be intriguing.
A flag flapping in the breeze, the dust that scatters in the sunlight streaming through a window, and even the texture of your upholstery can hold their attention for hours upon hours. It's easy to get and keep their attention because every experience is new and exciting to them. You can't really call them “discerning.”
As for the experts who've created these games, they're probably the least qualified to call themselves experts! There has been much research regarding the effect of television on babies under the age of two. It can cause short-term memory issues, ADHD, sleep disorders, and impact language and reading skills negatively.
While there isn't much research on the effect of playing apps on tablets and phones (can any baby really be considered actively “playing” any sort of game, really?), it's similar to a television screen in that there are animated scenes brightly colored, flashing before their little eyes, except you hold it closer to you than a television (that can't be good for eye development!)
The press release is just a way to market their service to parents hungry for a break, or the parents who actually believe these sorts of things make their baby smarter than the others.
Just about every mother will from time to time succumb to handing off her phone to save her sanity in a long line at the grocery store, or while waiting for their meals to arrive in a restaurant. The problem lies in the fact this app is used in the home, in conjunction with the television. Whatever happened to good old crayons and paper? This is how you truly develop fine motor skills, and how fascinating is it when they make that first colored mark on the clean, white sheet of paper?
What are your thoughts on this new app? Would you let your baby use it?