I’m not sure whether to laugh or despair at what I came upon today.
I’ll start by saying that, while it is a bit of a hot topic at the moment, I don’t want to get into a debate on whether kids should or should not be allowed to use iPads. I believe it is a choice for each set of parents to make based on their own beliefs and circumstances. We have made the decision to allow them in our home and to allow the kids to use them for limited periods, in appropriate circumstances, and under adult supervision. Less so for Missy, she is only 15 months old so I’m not comfortable with her having much screen time just yet whether it is TV or the iPad, although she has recently discovered the mini sago app and it is cute watching her smile and laugh at the musical fish. However, at 3.5 years old, Monkey is already pretty adept at navigating his way around the screen, locating his apps and favourite youtube videos. His nursery has been using iPads in the classroom at a teaching tool and I know his new school will be doing the same so it is a bit of a losing battle to try to fight against this technology and the best we can do is try to ensure responsible usage.
So that is what we try to do. When it is appropriate for Monkey to have a bit of downtime in which he may use his iPad, we try to keep an eye and ear out for what he is doing/watching. He mostly likes playing on the Lego Duplo Trains app or watching youtube videos of golf, steam trains, kids playing with toys or nursery rhyme videos, or a combination of these such as train songs or kids playing with toy trains (no, I don’t understand what the fascination is with watching other kids play with toys, you would think it would be more fun to actually play with your own toys!) I try to discourage him from watching cartoons that are violent in any way, I particularly dislike Tom & Jerry and its gratuitous violence and I also prefer him not to watch superheros fighting baddies just yet, he is too young to understand the use of violence directed only in certain circumstances and is instead liable to reenact everything on me, his friends or his baby sister.
However, our guard has obviously been down. Today I heard Monkey singing what I thought was a fairly innocuous railway song that he must have picked up from youtube, until I listened carefully to the words……
“Mickey’s on the railway picking up stones,
down came an engine and broke Mickey’s bones.
Ow, said Mickey, that’s not fair!
Oh, said the Engine driver, I don’t care!”
How horrid is that?!?! Who makes kids songs like that?! It’s so graphic and has such an awful, unfeeling message behind it that it’s certainly not something I want my 3.5 year old to be going around listening to never mind singing. I don’t even like the kids singing the old fashioned version of ring’o’ring’o’roses since I found out what it was about – our “ashes in the water” become “splashing in the water” or “fishes in the water”.
I also suspect this song might have something to do with Monkey’s recent re-inactments of people on the tracks getting run over by the train on our wooden train set, I had been wondering where that had come from. I needed to put a stop to this but I was getting nowhere trying to convince him to just stop singing the song altogether – a million “why?” questions and explanations later of why it isn’t a nice song and he still wanted to keep singing it so instead I quickly re-wrote it for him to include a slightly better message and gave him a full explanation of how we need to help people and care for everyone, and if we see someone in trouble or doing something dangerous we need to watch out for them, and it’s dangerous to be playing on the railway track etc. So our new version of the song goes…
“Mickey’s on the railway picking up stones,
down came an engine and
broke Mickey’s bones said “Go Home”.
Oh, said Mickey, that’s not fair!
Oh, said the Engine driver,
I don’t I’m showing I care!”
By singing this over and over with Monkey I think I’ve managed to ingrain the new version into this memory along with the lessons on being friendly and helpful. The whole thing is a little funny to look back at now but at the time it was also a bit of a shock reminder to me that we can’t let our guard down and must be ever vigilant to whatever outside influences our children are being exposed to. Young kids are like little sponges, taking everything in around them and learning things surprisingly quickly. Our job as parents is to be aware of what they are being exposed to, whether through the iPad/tablets, the TV, the internet or out in the real world, to make sure that we are happy that the messages they are receiving are appropriate both for their age and for the values you are trying to instil.
It would not have been funny had Monkey managed to view and learn something much worse than a dodgy song and I like to think that the level of supervision we usually apply to iPad time is what has ensured that hasn’t happened so far. However, it just goes to show that even when you can hear the melodies of “innocent” nursery songs it pays to give close attention to the actual words being used, especially with so many parodies and alternate versions out on the internet these days, it is pretty scary what some people upload disguised as children’s viewing.
In an ideal world young children would only use the iPad while in the presence of a supervising adult who can monitor what they are watching and engage with them about the content. However, in reality this is not always practical – sometimes dinners need to get cooked, younger children need to be dealt with and work needs to be done. For times when children are using the iPad (or other internet connected device) without direct supervision it is important to put safeguards in place, including parental locks and blocks. For us youtube is a bit of a double edged sword, it can be a blessing in many situations but I also hate the way it suggests other videos that can easily be clicked through or when the app automatically goes on to play something else. I will certainly be looking into alternatives of streaming such as downloading particular favourite and approved videos directly to our device and blocking the rest so Monkey can watch these easily without connecting to the internet and potentially coming across non-approved material.
Have your kids picked up any messages or behaviours from outside that you weren’t happy with, how did you deal with them? Have you got any other tips or advice for safe tablet use by young kids? Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you!