A friend of mine sent me a link to a product on Amazon the other day. I know you can get just about anything on Amazon, but this one caught me a bit off-guard. The link was for a "CTA Digital 2-in-1 Potty with Activity Seat for iPad." Yes, it's a child's potty seat with an iPad holder. The ad touts features such as "adjustable stand securely holds and helps protect iPad while kids play," without specifying what those kids might be playing with, given it's a potty chair; although this product also includes "clear touchscreen protector guards against smudges and messy hands," so, perhaps, the manufacturer does understand at some level that kids will be, well, kids, especially when they're toddlers learning new skills.
I'll admit to finding the whole thing fairly humorous, at first. However, the more I thought about this iPad potty chair, the more disturbing it became and not merely because of the obvious sanitary issues, regardless of the built-in "splashguard." I had to ask myself, "What are we doing to our kids?" Are we so obsessed with our own technology that we can't imagine doing any task in life -- even one so basic -- without it? Apparently, we are. A couple of months ago, there was a HuffPost/Yougov survey that showed half of 18-29-year-olds texted while on the potty themselves. Tech has become so ingrained in our culture that it follows us, literally, everywhere.
This connection to technology is not really good for kids, especially those under 2. The American Pediatric Society specifically recommends "no screen time for babies under 2." Granted, the average age for potty-training in the United States has been trending upward. In the 1950s, 92% of 2-year-olds were diaper-free. Today, that number has plummeted to 4%, with 98% of children potty-trained by age 4. It is only marginally reassuring that the majority of those using this iPad potty chair will be past that two-year mark.
To me, the bigger picture is the intertwining of tech/screens to life's activities. A recent worldwide study indicates that the disconnect anxiety I've been talking about for years is real, with two-thirds of participants admitting they are unable to go a single day without their "gadgets." When two-thirds can't go a single day without and half can't "go" without, there's an issue.
Kids aren't buying iPad potty chairs; adults are. This decades-long love-affair with electronic baby-sitters has reached new heights. This age-old propensity for distraction from life has found new ground. If toddlers are taught to rely on an iPad while on the pot, the percentage of 18-29-year-olds who text while toileting is bound to go up. What other basic life activities will they find impossible to accomplish without their electronics? As I've reported before, a study a few years ago indicated over half of young people (ages 16-22) would rather give up their sense of smell than social networking. I wonder what those numbers would be today?
Life is about making choices. Parents guide their children in learning how and why to make those choices, and do so in ways both overt and subtle. I think an iPad potty chair qualifies as both. Plopping your toddler down to engage in one of the first activities involving individual effort (after all, no one else can go to the bathroom for you) and then tying that individual effort with a tech gadget creates a pairing that lays the groundwork for inter-dependence. A toddler brought up on an iPad potty chair today may be willing to give up much more than a sense of smell to stay connected tomorrow.
So, what are we doing to our kids? I'm all for waiting a little longer than we did in the 1950's to potty train. I'm less willing to start so young tying tech to the business of living life.