“iPad Kids” and the future of early childhood development


Makenna Leiby

A young girl is featured intently watching videos by the channel “Cocomelon” on her iPad.

By Makenna Leiby, Pleasant Valley High School - IA

When most people reminisce about their childhood, they remember bike rides, jumping rope and creating adventure games. The current generation of adolescents or “iPad kids” will have profoundly different memories.

The term “iPad kid” was coined by TikTok users to describe toddlers and young children who appear constantly in front of their iPads or tablets. The characteristics of these adolescents include food-stained fingers, fingerprint or food-covered devices and awkward social behaviors.

Junior Amanda Nelson described her thoughts when encountering tech-addicted children in public. “When I see iPad kids I get grossed out and I usually think it’s really sad because instead of having a normal childhood they’re always on technology,” she said.

The traits associated with technology-obsessed children are unquestionably negative, so why are guardians continuing to allow premature access to technology?

There is no simple or concrete answer, but the family’s employment status definitely affects the likelihood of a child to have internet exposure. A recent study shows that the current percentage of dual-working parents is over 60% with half of those parents working demanding full-time careers. Therefore, modern guardians are time poor and exhausted by the “work obsessed” mentality of the American employment system. If the majority of parents are burned out after shifts or bringing additional work home, they want nothing to do with entertaining their children.

So, in comes the tablet to save the parent from creating experiences for their child. Kids are frequently handed their device loaded with educational or entertaining games, YouTube and streaming services to provide the guardians with an excuse to lounge.

Most parents do not even think twice about giving their young one an iPad or tablet because technology has become ingrained in modern parenting. Over 85% of parents admit to providing their young child with connections to technology, and the majority of those young children are on devices for over two hours per day. In an era when “iPad kids” are undeniably common, a precedent is being set for new parenting regulations.

Furthermore, even when parents express concern regarding the climbing amount of time their child passes on technology, their child is too far gone.

New-age parents are displaying increasingly permissive parenting tendencies like leniency about rules, being ultra-responsive to their child’s needs and attempting to appear as a friend rather than authority figure. Therefore, when these millennial parents develop anxiety about their child’s excessive use of their device, they are ill-equipped with the parenting skills necessary to wean their child off of technology.

Thousands of parents have shared horror stories about their child’s extreme behaviors when they attempted to limit or cut off their iPad usage. Adolescents have done everything from throw hour long tantrums, attempt to run away or give their parents the “silent treatment.”

Senior Taheera Amra explained the reaction her 5-year-old sister models when her iPad is seized. “She hates when it is taken away and tries to get it back. Often, if she has her’s taken away she would just find someone else’s,” she said.

However, permissive parents do not understand how to deal with these addict-like behaviors from their kids and will most likely return the device to the child.

Young children experience withdrawal-like symptoms when parents attempt to take away their iPads, but why are these kids so obsessed with their devices?

Well, the games and apps typically available to kids like Roblox, Minecraft and YouTube are eminently enjoyable and provide stimulating visuals. Roblox and Minecraft feature multiple saturated sceneries and satisfying sounds associated with actions in the games. The kids become dependent on a world with unrealistic coloring and unattainable experiences.

However, YouTube wins the award for most brain activation, with thousands of channels, like “Cocomelon” and “Dave and Ava;” creating fast paced animations, there is no room for competition. The “Cocomelon-Nursery Rhymes” channel has almost 130 million subscribers and produces video adaptations of classic, youthful stories, but the nature of the animations creates a powerful brain stimulant, almost drug-like, in young minds.

Amra commented on the tendencies her young sister demonstrates in regards to her iPad. “I think she does show addictive behavior, since she constantly wants it and doesn’t seem to be entertained by many other things than her iPad,” she stated.

These YouTube pages targeted at young audiences brand themselves as educational and beneficial sources of entertainment to appease guardians, but the viewers are gaining little applicable knowledge from the videos. The typical animated story features scene changes every one to three seconds, flashing lights, deep color shades and memorable music. These factors combined trigger extreme stimulation for developing minds, and the children become reliant on obtaining the stimulation or “drug” regularly. The children are never focused on the narrative or value of the video but the visual and auditory experience.

Invigorating games and videos do more than initiate dependence; they obstruct the period of crucial social and emotional development. The early years of one’s life lay the foundation for the type of social, emotional and physical person they will be as an adult. Children obtain knowledge about social cues, taking directions and respecting others through mimicking interactions they have with parents. Second most important to interactions with parents is interactions with peers. Through communication and play with other kids, adolescents pick up language skills, expanded vocabulary, motor skills and empathy.

Since young children are spending more time on their iPads than with parents, siblings or friends, they are showing a lack of emotional and social awareness. Around 70% of current parents admit to their child’s technology usage leading to a decrease in social skills and ability to form healthy relationships.

With their reliance on technology replacing the essential skills gained during a typical period of early childhood development, the new generation will be left without meaningful connections and a true sense of self in adulthood. Therefore, guardians need to be aware of the consequences of introducing their young children to the world of online entertainment.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is, “Are there truly iPad kids or just iPad parents?”

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on March 1, 2022.