JOSE, Calif. ó Meet the digital diapered set.
mere babes devour more and more online media while being
baby-sat with the help of the Internet, the crib is
becoming Americaís new tech incubator. And as app
developers and gadget makers compete to corner the youth
market, their innovations are fueling a national debate
over the promises and pitfalls of being connected so
folks at Boston-based Rest Devices, for example,
probably never dreamed theyíd kick a hornetís nest
by launching Mimo. Slipped into a onesie, Mimoís
sensor and microphone tells the smartphone-packing
parent in the other room the babyís temperature,
movements and position in the crib, offering 24-7
surveillance with a Bluetooth-transmitted soundtrack of
their childís burps and babble.
you consider Mimo an agent of Big Brother, as one San
Jose schoolteacher fears, or the ever-vigilant digital
assistant that mothers across the land crave, the trend
it represents is touching nerves.
also gaining strength. From baby-monitoring hardware, to
games on an iPad attached to a Fisher-Price bouncy
chair, to interactive learning tools for the under-6 set
from startups like Palo Alto-based Kidaptive, technology
is increasingly being woven into American childhood.
recent study by Common Sense Media found that 38 percent
of children under two have used a mobile device for
media, compared with 10 percent two years ago. Even
larger increases were reported in tablet ownership among
their older brothers and sisters, up to age 8. With
companies literally hooking up technology to humans
right out of the chute, wearable sensors are the tip of
an onslaught of apps and tablet-based learning
platforms. And that leaves some adults alarmed.
Orwellian to have too much tech shoved into our kidsí
lives at earlier and earlier ages," said East San
Jose English teacher Robin Edwards-Harvey when she
learned about Mimo, which is marketed as a "cure
for Mommy brain." "With little kids getting
addicted to things like game technology, I see this as
part of a really disturbing trend."
app-makers tout the educational horsepower of their
wares, and many parents say theyíve seen technology
have a positive impact on their childrenís lives.
Massachusetts mom Heather McGibbon, 35, says Mimo has
been a godsend as she wrestled with her infant sonís
stomach problems and erratic sleeping patterns. She says
the benefits of the device far outweigh any concerns
about invasive technology or abusive data-collection.
claim theyíre not viewing or selling my childís
information and I have to take their word for it,"
she says. "Sure, itís a scary world we live in
with all the surveillance going on. But it wasnít the
fact that someone could track my babyís biorhythms
that was keeping me up at night ... it was my
the upside for parents like McGibbon, early-age digital
engagement raises two concerns: The American Academy of
Pediatrics warns that screen-time of any kind for anyone
two and younger could be detrimental to their
development. Also, privacy advocates and others say we
risk creating a "surveillance society" with
all these new tech toys, forging a world where marketers
will force-feed products to those far too young to opt
normalizing surveillance with these tech devices,"
says Josh Golin, associate director for the advocacy
group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
"And I think we need to ask who it benefits. The
parents? Are we indoctrinating children into a society
where their every movement is being monetized?"
Webbe of Mountain House east of Livermore doesnít see
it that way at all. Describing herself and her Google-employed
husband as "techies from the 90s," Webbe says
their 9-year-old son Aiden got his first laptop at 13
months "because we wanted to expose him early on to
reading through educational apps. Within months, he was
learning to type, and I have videos of him reading a
book at age two."
says she and her husband closely monitored Aidenís use
of technology, adding that the third-grader now reads at
an eighth-grade level ó thanks, she believes, to his
early adoption of computers.
parents are more conflicted. While Morgan Hill mom Penny
Polayes, 53, was impressed with what her two daughters
have learned from an all-iPad program at Archbishop
Mitty High School, she says "itís kind of
disturbing to see a one-year-old playing games on an
iPad. Iím not sure if theyíre learning properly and
I worry that the technology may be detaching them from
Lansbury, a Southern California-based early-childhood
specialist who blogs about the subject, says newborns
are wired to take in and learn from the world around
them. And face-to-face interaction with a parent is far
more natural than staring into a shimmering tablet, like
the iPad attached to the controversial
"Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat" from
Fisher-Price. Critics say the iPad "bouncy
seat" encourages parents to leave their children
with this "virtual baby sitter," depriving
kids of face-to-face time thatís essential to the
a baby or infant sees a screen, itís like this
bombardment of their senses," says Lansbury.
"Adults can see a screen and filter the images, but
babies canít. They see the glow and everything moving
all around and they donít understand why that digital
dog is there and it doesnít look like a real dog. Thatís
confusing, and itís not something that they can learn
believes that "by exposing them to this technology
at such an early age, youíre kind of subtly
discouraging them from exploring their universe and
encouraging passive rather than active thinking, which
fosters their love of learning. Instead, youíre
fostering intellectual apathy."
in Americaís too-young-for-tech-or-not debate is the
question of whether self-described "educational
apps" actually help youngsters learn faster. With
72 percent of children age 8 and under having used a
mobile device for some type of media activity, according
to the Common Sense Media study, more and more parents
are buying into the perceived benefits.
many childhood-development experts remain cautious.
"We do know that children learn best through
interaction with their parents, especially babies who
see the expressions on your face and hear your
voice," says Dr. Alanna Levine with the American
Academy of Pediatrics. "You donít want a device
to replace that, and we find that many of these
so-called education apps actually take the away the
childís ability to focus, to problem-solve, and to
grasp things like cause and effect."
said, "these apps are here to stay," says
Levine. "We need to look closely at them and study
them, but the problem is the technology is moving so
fast, and studies take years to see long-term effects,
that by the time we do that the next technology is
FINDINGS FROM "ZERO TO EIGHT: CHILDRENíS MEDIA
USE IN AMERICA 2013"
access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher
than it was two years ago. Among families with children
age eight and under, there has been a fivefold increase
in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8
percent of all families in 2011 to 40 percent in 2013.
percent of kids under two have used a mobile device for
media, compared with 10 percent two years ago.
percentage of children with access to some type of
"smart" mobile device at home, such as a
smartphone or tablet, has jumped from about half to
three-quarters of all children in just two years.
twice as many children age 8 or under have used mobile
media compared with two years ago, and the average
amount of time children spend using mobile devices has
percent of children age eight and under have used a
mobile device for some type of media activity such as
playing games, watching videos, or using apps, up from
38 percent in 2011.
percentage of children who use mobile devices at least
once a day has more than doubled, from 8 to 17 percent.
Common Sense Media