Let's face it-- we live in a technological world, and babies need to be prepared for this from Day One. What happens if your child starts preschool and he or she is behind because they have not yet developed crucial electronic life skills, like touching a screen at exactly the right angle? Or if they get to third grade and have wasted time on things like swimming or chopping fruit, and their index-finger-swiping speed is a nanosecond less than that of their video-literate/video-addled peers? And what about their social lives? What if they are ostracized at a video-game birthday party because someone mentions baseball and they run to get a glove rather than a Wii remote?
That's right, it's crucial we start these kids early, and thank goodness for Fisher-Price. Their Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat for iPad has gotten a lot of flak from activists and some of those hippy-dippy parents who are all "yadda yadda yadda fresh air blah blah blah social and emotional development blah blah blah good grief we're truly headed for a WALL-E society before the decade is even finished blah blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda boring boring boring," but I for one think it's fantastic. I applaud the Apptivity Seat -- and I actually don't think it goes far enough. Here are my suggestions for improvement, which will hopefully be incorporated into the next model:
Remote Control: Currently, there is no remote control for the Apptivity Seat, but I am guessing that one is in the works. Come on, if I'm looking for my infant to have his own personal technological-entertainment complex, why the hell should I have to be the one to walk over and fiddle with it? I'm guessing babies won't be dexterous enough to swipe the screen themselves until a few months in -- again, parents, practice can help with this -- but I certainly don't want to have to get up from my own screen to start a new video on theirs. I'm thinking now about a basic, simple parental remote. It's a no-brainer, and perhaps can be added in the next few weeks. Maybe in time we could help the kids' independence by having them be able to do it themselves -- how cool would it be to get all Matrix-y and have the baby be able to toggle between videos with their pupil movements or even their heartbeat? Am I right?
Blinders: In its current design -- and I'm guessing this is an oversight -- there is still a possibility that the baby might occasionally take his or her eyes off the iPad screen. Seriously uncool! Imagine the distraction and loss of focus if she was to encounter something like a bird moving outside a window, light bouncing off the walls from a chandelier or -- for a worst-case scenario -- a three-dimensional human face in an actual three-dimensional environment. Apparently, babies are wired to seek out real-life faces because it helps them learn some crap about emotional expression or something. So, parents, they're going to try to do it, and we need to be prepared. I'd recommend either a darkening box that encloses just their heads and the screen, or perhaps some of those blinders that those old-timey horses wear, which might be more cost-effective.
Leg straps and hand restraints: I know it's not a pleasant topic, but babies kick. I'm not trying to accuse anybody's baby in particular, but I do think all babies do it at least once. They've also been known to wave their hands around in that off-putting way that looks like they're the lone survivor of some Dutch Electronica rave from 1997. Frankly, I'm surprised that the Apptivity Seat has not done more to stop these activities, which decidedly do not pass muster as "App"tivities. Granted, the sedating effects of the screen are a positive step in that direction, but I do think physical restraints will help much further. Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter stretched her arms and was so fascinated by it that she did it several hundred more times? Or how my baby son would kick his legs for what felt like months on end? Good grief -- I'm exhausted for them just thinking about it. There are plenty of videos of other kids stretching their arms and kicking their legs to load onto the iPad, and watching those is more than enough. Some nice, comfy limb restraints -- I'm thinking a cashmere version for the luxe parents out there? Maybe leather for the toddler-thong market? -- would help keep this from happening.
Earbuds: Another weakness of the Apptivity Seat is that it doesn't completely drown out sounds from outside the screen. I know, I know, those know-it-all scientists will tell you that screen time has been associated with a lag in verbal development in part because the background noise of the electronics makes it harder for babies and toddlers to distinguish the real-life vocalizations around them. But these white-coat whackjobs miss the point -- we can just negate those problems by making sure our kids never hear noises other than the stuff coming from the screen in the first place! Added bonus: by tuning out the rest of the world, we we'll also avoid that creepy startle response babies sometimes get -- ever seen one of those? (Shudder.) So, I'm thinking some small earbuds, maybe in cute pops of color? Cheetah prints, or maybe a sleek metallic -- are you feeling me? Some audiologists -- I think that's the word -- have told me that this might be associated with damaging kids' hearing, but, um, hello????! We can just keep turning up the volume if need be!
Intravenous feeding: A lot of parents are excited about the iPotty for helping potty-train kids who can't be bothered to try to poo or pee unless we entice them with video entertainment. I think this was a problem in caveman times, as well. Now have we forgotten that there are also kids who don't want to eat? I'm surprised people haven't yet put two and two together about just how revolutionary the Apptivity Seat can be for feeding time! After all, if we don't prepare our kids to shovel in food-that's-barely-recognizable-as-food while staring at multiple screens like their grown-up counterparts do, we're doing them a disservice in today's world. Don't tell me you haven't worried about it too. And alarmingly, by the time today's babies start solids it might already be too late. So, hear me out -- I'm picturing a bottle holder for the liquid phase -- we could make it all retro, like an actual hand, or what about something cushier like those wire monkey mothers from that old psych study? Of course, when they hit the age for solid food, I know what you're thinking -- the potential mess. I've heard that babies tend to use feeding time as a means of sensory exploration and discovery, which obviously can be devastating for electronics. I need to consult with a few gastroenterologists, but I do think that a simple feeding tube is the answer (and can perhaps be combined with the pottying aspect as well. What goes in has to come out -- and why not streamline the process?)
An additional screen: Naturally, since one screen is such a judicious and intelligent idea, a second screen would double the benefits. What if the child gets antsy with what is on the one screen? Apparently, babies and children occasionally get bored -- trust me, I've heard about it, and it's a dangerous and unnatural mood state that can have devastating consequences, especially in disrupting parents from their own screen time. We can combat this by making sure to throw entertainment at our babies and children at all times; I wish it was seen as important as nap time, but we're getting there. Yes, some of those crunchy freaks who still let their kids dig in real dirt (I've found a good dirt app, by the way -- ping me!) might even try to argue that boredom is a natural catalyst for creativity, and that learning to sit alone with one's thoughts and daydream and come up with ways to entertain themselves is a life skill that will make them less likely to suffer attentional problems and depression later on, but we've got plenty of pills for that stuff. So don't waste your time worrying about those conditions. In fact, that reminds me! Perhaps the future Apptivity model, hopefully expanded to the school-aged set, can have a... medication dispenser!
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a psychologist and media commentator. She is the author of The Friendship Fix and the longtime writer of Baggage Check, the mental health advice column in the Washington Post Express.
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