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Health & wellness

Child in Mind

iPad-attached potty, bouncy seats exploit young

Adapted from the Child in Mind blog on Boston.com.

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 e-mail from a colleague with a link for another product — a potty seat with an attachment for an iPad — there was no going back.

In our technology-driven culture, a position maintaining that we need to put on the brakes is a challenging one to take. But in these two products I believe we have come face-to-face with exploitation of children (and their parents) or a “prejudice” against children. I would even go so far as to say it is a violation of infants’ rights.

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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.

So how do these products violate infant rights? Let’s 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. . . . 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 the 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.

Dr. Claudia M. Gold is a pediatrician who runs the Early Childhood Social and Emotional Health Program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. She can be reached at claudiamgold@gmail.com.

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