I was contemplating writing a blog post about the movement by the Boston-based advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood urging Fisher-Price to recall the baby bouncy seat with an attachment for insertion of an iPad. When I then received an email from a colleague with a link for another product — a potty seat with an attachment for an iPad — there was no going back. I decided not to include the link to that product so as not to inadvertently be a source of free advertising, but it is easy to find.
In our technology driven culture, a position maintaining that we need to put on the brakes is a challenging one to take. The force of “progress” is so powerful that one runs the risk of seeming out-of-touch or old fashioned. But in these two products I believe we have come face-to-face with exploitation of children ( and their parents) or what I have described in a previous post as a “prejudice” against children. I would even go so far as to say it is a violation of infants’ rights.
In today’s society, where parents are often living in a state of high stress, with little support, either practical or emotional, the appeal of these products is very understandable. The allure of the screen is equally, if not more powerful for the infant. So from a marketing perspective, from a moneymaking perspective, it is a recipe for success.
I became aware of the concept of infants’ rights in my role as a board member of the Massachusetts chapter of the World Association of Infant Mental Health. A preliminary version the Declaration of Infants’ Rights, a work in progress, reads:
The young child’s capacity to experience, regulate, and express emotions, form close and secure relationships, and explore the environment and learn are fundamental to mental as well as physical and developmental health throughout the life span.
So how do these products violate these rights? Lets start with toilet training. Recently I had the opportunity to write the parent guide for a new children’s book, Potty Palooza. I identify the relational nature of toilet training:
Toilet training occurs in relationships. This includes a child’s relationship with his body, as well as his relationship with you. Toilet training will occur under the influence of a child’s inborn desire for mastery in relation to his body. A normal developmental movement toward separation and independence, together with your child’s wish to be like you and to please you, will move the process forward.
I do not know what will happen if you insert a screen between parent and child as part of this process (and sitting on the potty with a book is an entirely different experience.) It is likely that the draw of the screen will interfere with a child’s ability to read his body’s natural signals. The desire for treasured “screen time” will become the motivation for sitting on the potty, replacing his natural motivation to please his parents and to gain mastery over his body in a healthy way.
Turning to the iPad in the bouncy seat, the possible effects are more insidious and diffuse. Sitting in the bouncy seat in kitchen watching mom or dad prepare dinner is a time of great learning; a time of significant brain development. This learning occurs both through direct interactions with adults and older siblings, as well as through observation. The iPad interferes with both. As CCFC writes:
The Apptivity Seat is the ultimate electronic baby sitter. Because screens can be mesmerizing and babies are strapped down and “safely” restrained, it encourages parents to leave infants all alone with an iPad. To make matters worse, Fisher-Price is marketing the Apptivity Seat — and claiming it’s educational — for newborns. Parents are encouraged to download “early learning apps” that claim to “introduce baby to letters, numbers and more.” There’s no evidence that babies benefit from screen time and some evidence that it might be harmful. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for children under two.
Extensive evidence at the interface of neuroscience and developmental psychology shows how the brain is wired in relationships, with the most rapid brain growth occurring in the first three years. Instead of making products that come between parent and infant, our focus needs to be on supporting early caregiver-infant relationships, in the form of such things as parental leave, quality childcare and screening for and treatment of postpartum depression.