Why you should not buy your child an iPad

Tom Kaneshige
4 March, 2012
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The day the iPad 2 was released last year, I watched a young boy playing with his shiny new Apple device while on a BART train to San Francisco, his beaming father standing behind him. Since then, I’ve seen many kids playing games, watching movies and tapping around the web on their iPads-and each time, I got a feeling of dread.

Should children have iPads? I don’t think so.

Perhaps I’m holding on to a false belief that children should be outside playing football or tapping their imagination with dolls and action figures. Perhaps I’m simply harking back to my youth. I remember how my father expected me to mow lawns when I was kid, just like he used to do.

But the iPad clearly is not a lawn mower or a playground.

Let’s face it, iPad isolation can lead to poor social skills at a time when kids are just learning how to interact with each other. The iPad is supposed to be a creative device but instead blunts the imagination with rigid apps that define reality and choices, as opposed to a child’s boundless thinking.

As Apple prepares for the unveiling of the next iPad on March 7 in San Francisco, the iFaithful are downright giddy with excitement, like children on Christmas Eve. Soon there will be new iPads in tiny hands. One out of three parents is willing to buy or has already bought their children iPads, according to a recent iYogi Insights survey.

On the flip side, the iYogi survey also shows a majority of parents who won’t buy their children iPads. What are their reasons? Thirty-four percent think the iPad will keep their children from making more friends, while 50 percent believe their kids are better off playing outdoors.

Proponents will tell you that the iPad prepares children for the digital future. But doesn’t this, too, sound familiar? In fact, this was the same reasoning used to convince parents to buy computers in 1984 when I was a teenager. During that summer, three of us kids spent entire days playing a game on the computer instead of shooting hoops with friends. (I can’t even remember the name of the game.)

Critics might point out that I’m a tech reporter and perhaps my early exposure to computers pushed me that way. My retort would be that job opportunities were few and far between for an English literature major in love with Shakespearean tragedies in 1993. Tech reporting was the easiest entry point into journalism.

Beyond elementary grade levels, Apple is making a huge push to make the iPad a standard student device in high schools across the country. Last month, Apple unveiled iBooks 2 for the iPad, a storefront for multimedia high school textbooks and iBooks Author, a Mac app for creating multimedia textbooks.

At colleges, tech isolation predates the iPad and has been growing at a steady clip. A college square used to be a social Mecca buzzing with activity and conversation. Today, students listen to iPods or have their noses buried in laptops, a kind of self-imposed solitary confinement not unlike cubicle work life.

Then there are the mind-boggling reasons for buying your kid an iPad. In the iYogi survey, 57 percent of parents with two children or more would be happy to use the iPad to keep their kids out of their hair. Who would have thought the iPad makes a good babysitter?

In the professional world, the iPad has gained a kind of heightened status. A salesperson whipping out his iPad looks a lot cooler than his competitor lugging around a twoin thick binder. Perhaps prideful parents get iPads to improve their kid’s social status.

To be fair, the App Store offers many great learning apps.

Almost all of the parents in the iYogi survey who were willing to buy their child an iPad approved of its use as a homework tool. The iPad has been heralded as nothing less than a miracle for helping autistic students and disabled adults like Kevin Berg communicate. Multimedia e-textbooks created on iBooks Author and running on the iPad may one day revolutionise teaching at high schools.

Let’s not forget that children of all ages can learn from basic reading, too and the iPad has been billed as a great reading device: “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Anderson, a read-aloud picture book for children, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle for elementary students and Shakespeare in Bits: “Macbeth” iPad Edition by the Bard app are all examples of classic books reimagined on the iPad.

There’s just one problem: Of all the kids and young adults I’ve seen with iPads, including the boy on the train, not one was reading an ebook.





10 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. xenicraft says:

    There’s just one problem: Of all the kids and young adults I’ve seen with iPads, including the boy on the train, not one was reading an ebook.

    OH SNAP!

  2. Tim E-H says:

    The same arguments were made about books, old-style paper books. Unlike iOS devices however, paper books *are* entirely solitary. On an iPad however, our kids can play games with friends; chat with friends by voice, text or video; collaborate on projects with them. An iPad is a communication device as much as a “content consumption” device and as such our kids are learning and developing relevant communication skills.

    As with all technology, including books, iPad use should be introduced with adult guidance and some gentle encouragement (or outright bribery) to go outside an play too. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, clever parents can encourage their kids to use their iPads to discover new places to explore and new games to play. It’s a win-win.

    By the way, kids can own iPads and still learn to mow the lawn. Except now they can Google how to do it better than their parents. I wish I could have done that when I was young!

  3. Tim Barnes says:

    Interesting article. My 3 year daughter enjoys using my wife’s iPhone and or my iPhone or iPad, we allow her to use them in moderation and I think that is the key. IF parents allow their children to sit and play at free will of course there will be an issue. Its called common sense, which more and more people don’t use or have these days.

  4. Peter Pleasance says:

    ‘Multimedia e-textbooks created on iBooks Author and running on the iPad may one day revolutionise teaching at high schools.’

    Interesting. We are currently using iBooks Author to make books for Prep students (also yrs 1 to 12). The iBooks we make (done in school) range from individual learning iBooks to large group project iBooks.

    iBooks Author is much more than just making text books.

  5. Les Martin says:

    My 15 y/old Girl has a netbook this year , it was an opt-in or out deal but free at least and to be given back at the end of the year because the Year 10 does not use them as they want the Pupil to be able to WRITE and use TEXT BOOKS as you have to be able to learn and go ahead in a World that isnt all on a computer screen…..Now i like that wisdom but the reality is that She spends the time on the school wi-fi on social network sites or skyping other students and at home She has all Her favourite msic video’s on a dongle which plays at all times , even when homework is to be done….I am considering giving it back , an iPad would be the same , it doesnt ‘revolutionize’ anything , they there to learn how to learen and that is done the good old way via writing by hand and reading books…..You may say its Parental control , just how much stress (more stress) do we need in policing the wi-fi , shouting and tantrums..No , the electronic learning process is a waste of time , if you can type and access websites and use Office then you have all the tools you need , but proper,deeper learning only comes from hands – on.

  6. Tiby says:

    How did you get through this article without once mentioning television?

    Children as young as 1 year are glued to the television, a one-way stream of targeted information and advertising, and many cannot even eat without sitting in front of it. Yes, TV has become such an ingrained part of life, but I would certainly prefer my child interacting with an iPad and all the opportunities for imagination that come from interaction, as opposed to the strictly one-way feed of television.

    Further, iPads allow children to be mobile with the device, taking it outside, etc, rather than being stuck in their bedroom or lounge room with the TV. There are a number of virtual reality games (such as “Seek ‘n Spell”) which use GPS and mapping to encourage players to run around the yard or area and collect letters to make words.

    References to decades-old concepts about parenting are hardly relevant when there are so many other examples happening right now.

  7. Jen says:

    As a child I was restricted to an hour of TV each night after dinner. I had no problem with that restriction and enjoyed my hour of viewing. Are you saying today’s parents are so weak-willed they are unable to set limits on iPad-use and because of this children must be denied access to this fantastic tool?

    Unlike TV, iPads are highly educational, don’t expose children to advertising, and enable social interaction. I’m a huge believer in children playing outside but iPads do not stop this if parents are prepared to say, ‘Go play outside for a couple of hours and then you can use your iPad.’

  8. Peter MacProf Geelong says:

    Re the intro, ‘gifting’? What happened to ‘giving’? I don’t believe in this modern trend of making nouns do double-duty as verbs. People should read more and not tamper with the language. The more they do, the less meaning it has.

  9. connectionfailure says:

    The iPad “blunts the imagination with rigid apps”: agreed. You can’t, for example, draw a picture on it and then fold that picture into a paper aeroplane and throw it around the room.
    This is because our generation has built the software with embedded paradigms. The computers we use today are modeled on the desktop metaphor. Filesystems impose mental limits that we’re only just starting to break away from.
    That said, sticking a kid in front of an iPad of uninspiring apps is almost as bad as them zoning out in front of dull TV shows.
    My daughter has used my iPhone to create 3D location-based paintings, something not possible with real-world paints. She made a virtual world which can only be seen ‘through’ the iDevice, so it has opened her mind in a way I hadn’t thought of.

  10. David Alston says:

    Hmmm….. Our DaughterInLaw was appreciative of her 2 year old using his/her iPad during the recent weeks of wet weather when venturing out was infrequent.. Favorite app?… Photo Booth – dancing around in front of all of the funny images..

    GrandParents are only a few clicks away on FaceTime… on their iPad of course. GrandPa did take an outdoor excursion yesterday to play with his lawn mower.. It’s not all iPad fun.

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