The market of electronic toys for toddlers is growing rapidly each year.
And the makers of these toys are touting their many benefits, even for babies and toddlers.
When I refer to electronic toys, I am not speaking only about tablets and phones (it could be argued that these are even worse for toddlers).
I won’t disagree completely as I do believe there are benefits to technology, however for a typically developing toddler there are many reasons why you should consider limiting their use of electronic toys.
For the purpose of this article I am referring specifically to toddlers, that is children between the ages of 1 and 3.
As a child gets older and has many foundational skills in place, electronics and technology can be a wonderful thing (in moderation of course).
I will be honest and upfront with you and let you know that my children did have electronic toys when they were toddlers.
I am not claiming to be perfect and honestly it is getting harder and harder to avoid these types of toys.
I did however limit the number of electronic toys my children had access to and I would often take out the batteries if the toys still worked well without them.
Because in all seriousness, does a door on a toy farm need to make an animal sound when you open it?
Why not make the sound yourself and show your child the animal that goes along with it?
Now, let’s look at why you should consider reducing some of the electronic toys for toddlers in your home!
6 Reasons To Consider Limiting Electronic Toys For Toddlers
These items are presented in no particular order.
1. Lessened Quality of Parent-Child Interaction
Have you ever watched a toddler playing with an electronic toy? They are fascinated by pushing buttons and they are usually doing it on their own.
Electronic toys do make great babysitters, but do they encourage quality parent-child interaction? I would have to say “not really”.
Yes, there are many parents that will still interact with their child while playing with these toys, but the quality of the interaction is not the same.
Adults tend to let the toy do most of the talking and they are less responsive to the demands for attention from their child.
The same can be said for e-books.
Toddlers need to see and feel a real book in order to truly engage with the story.
Research has found that 3 year old’s are less likely to follow the plot of a story when it is in e-book format.
Babies and toddlers learn best by seeing and touching three dimensional objects as opposed to two dimensional objects. So in order to learn new words a parent can show a child a toy dog while saying the word dog and barking.
Your child can then take the toy dog and pretend to make it jump, eat, roll over, etc.
This cannot be done by looking at a picture of a dog on a smart phone and touching the screen.
This may produce a dog barking and maybe the dog will jump on the screen but it is still two dimensional.
2. Decrease in Vocabulary Used by Parent
Since electronic toys “talk” to your toddler, the vocabulary parents use tends to be decreased.
Parents do not use the same words that they would if the toy did not make a sound.
The link I provided above refers to a study done on electronic vs non electronic shape sorters. The researchers found that while parents talked to their child in both groups, the parents whose children were given the electronic shape sorters used less spatial language.
Children connect and bond more with their parents than with electronic toys.
A word spoken by a toy will less likely be remembered than a word spoken by the parent.
And, when a parent is doing the talking, they tend to repeat the same words several times using varied pitch and intonation. A toy will not do this.
3. Over Stimulation
Electronic toys can be very loud and overwhelming, especially for a young child.
Toddlers love to explore but they don’t want to be startled all the time.
Most electronic toddler toys have on and off switches, so you can turn them off and your little one can still play with the toy.
If there is no switch, just take out the batteries.
Some toys are also somewhat of an all-in-one learning toy.
One toy to teach numbers, letters, colors and more. Honestly, this is a bit much for a 1-2 year old. One step at a time!
Toddlers will often show that they have been overstimulated through behavioral changes.
You may not realize it in the moment, but unexplained crying or change in mood can be the result of over stimulation. It can also indicate that the child is tired, perhaps from being over stimulated.
4. Too Much Sedentary Time
Pushing buttons and hearing sounds becomes mesmerizing to a toddler (and many adults). Some of them can zone out and do the same thing over and over, thus not moving around.
We want our children to learn about and explore their environments. Learning in the early years is supposed to be active, including hands on experiences with people, objects and nature.
I have noticed more and more “active apps” being developed to get kids moving.
There is even a company called SpringFree Trampolines that has developed a product called Tgoma. Their slogan is “Motivate your family to go outside and be active”.
It uses an iPad (with bluetooth) and has sensors throughout the trampoline. There are various activities you can connect to the trampoline. It’s basically an interactive game for the trampoline.
I don’t have an issue with this in itself. It is great that kids are outside having fun.
What I don’t agree with is having to use a device to lure the kids outside (and onto a trampoline). For a child just being outside and playing in nature should be fun.
My point is that fancy toys for toddlers often end up with your little one being less active.
5. Decrease in Creativity
What is presented on a screen is only a representation of something real.
Touching a screen or pushing a button may teach cause and effect (which is a key foundational skill, but remember it is only one skill) but it does not provide as full or meaningful of an experience that could happen with real person to person or person to object interaction.
A child who is listening to and watching an electronic toy cannot be as creative as one who is making something up on the fly.
Electronic toys for toddlers come pre-programmed and you can’t really deviate from that.
Even if it is technically possible to do something different, toddlers do not have the knowledge to do so unless a parent is interacting with them (which is not always the case when toys are electronic).
6. Reduction of Meaningful Relationships
Toddlers are often handed their parent’s smart phone (loaded with “educational” apps) in order to distract them, or stop them from crying.
While this may work well in the moment, it does not allow the child to express his feelings.
This is also teaching the child to look to outside sources for happiness.
Parents in turn do not need to come up with novel ways to soothe or occupy their little one.
Children need to be taught that it is ok to be upset. Crying is part of being a child.
The next time your child is playing, ask yourself
“does this toy/activity have the potential for imagination and problem solving?”
Let’s look at the memory game. It has been around for a long time. I remember playing it as a young child and I am sure you do too.
The basic idea is that you have cards with pictures on them that you would have to match up (find the matching pair).
Nowadays you can get this game as an app for a tablet or smart phone. Yes, the concept is still the same, you need to find matching pictures.
However, the experience of playing the game with real cards is much richer with even more opportunities for learning.
First of all, your child can play with another person, looking at them and interacting with them while playing.
Secondly, your child can actually feel the card. He can choose to collect them face up or face down and then determine if he wants his matching cards to be lined up or stacked one on top of the other.
Thirdly, if one of the cards goes missing, you and your child can think of a solution (cards won’t go missing in the electronic game).
None of these things can happen with the electronic version of the game as it is pre-programmed to perform a certain way.
The AAP’s Recommendation For Screen Time For Children
The American Association of Pediatrics changed their screen time recommendations in October 2016 to reflect the ever increasing use of tech during childhood.
The guidelines now state:
- No screen media under 18 months (with the exception of video chatting with family members)
- 1 hour of quality screen time after this to the age of 5. It is strongly recommended that parents are next to their children during this time.
- For children over the age of 6 parents are encouraged to continue to set screen limits, monitor screen activity and encourage plenty of free play and outdoor physical activities.
To see the full list of recommendations click here.
The Value of Play
Keep in mind how important true play is for children.
It facilitates critical and original thoughts, problem solving, imagination, turn taking, learning about emotions and self regulation.
This type of hands on play can be thought of as the building blocks for many skills yet to come.
Your toddler has many, many years ahead to learn about and learn from electronics, but without the foundational skills, none of that matters.
What are your thoughts on electronic toys for toddlers?
If your toddler has a room full of electronic toys, will you continue to encourage her playing with them or will you take a step back and promote her trying more traditional forms of play. Or perhaps you are doing a little of both.
As I have said in many of my other articles, I think moderation is the key with just about everything in life!