I write today in defense of “Pat the Bunny.”
Written in 1940, “Pat” is one of those books, like “Goodnight, Moon,” that can make parents of young children cringe. It elicits “Again! Again!” from countless 2-year-olds. That is not because of well-developed characters or clever plots. At just 135 words, “Pat” is spare. One of the most complex character interactions goes like this: “Judy can play peek-a-boo with Paul.”
So why is a 20-page book an enduring children’s classic?
“Pat the Bunny” is interactive.
Judy pats the bunny and the next page reads: “You can pat the bunny.” And for generations, tiny, pudgy hands have reached out to feel the soft fur. Same with playing peekaboo with a tiny scrap of material or feeling “Daddy’s scratchy face.”
Try that on an iPad.
So I’m scratching my head over the news last month that Fisher-Price has come up with a bouncy seat that can accommodate an iPad — called an “Apptivity Seat” — and a hanging mobile into which you can tuck an iPod Touch. Another company has developed a potty seat that rewards success with screen time.
Before you think that I am one of those parents who is an absolutist on the damaging effects of screen time, let me be clear. When my kids were young, I loved the times when “Arthur” would come on PBS. That nerdy aardvark bought me peace and quiet while I made dinner on many an occasion. I once went to a seminar at which parenting expert Nancy Samelin was asked about denying screen time as a method of punishment. She didn’t miss a beat in responding, “I think it’s important to think about who you are actually punishing when you take away all screen time.”
But I also remember talking to a kindergarten teacher who said that every year she has several children in her class who have never held a book and as a result “don’t know how to open it or how to turn the pages.” That teacher’s problem wasn’t that the parents didn’t have access to children’s books; they didn’t understand the importance of getting books into sticky-fingered hands of children long before they can read.
At $75 (not including the iPad), the Apptivity Seat is marketed squarely at the same parents who hand their 3-year-olds iPhones in the line at Starbucks.
Clicking on Amazon recently revealed that there was only one of the Fisher-Price mobiles left in stock. That’s not surprising when the customer reviews include glowing praise: “This is a must-have for your baby if you own an iTouch or an iPhone. The Fisher-Price apps will keep your baby entertained and active. I would recommend this product for anyone. :)”
To be fair, there’s been lots of outcry against these devices, with the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood organizing a letter-writing campaign to get Mattel, which owns Fisher-Price, to stop selling the products.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against screen time for children younger than 2. In the face of Apptivity Seat, iPotty and others, that recommendation seems downright utopian.
Even as I despair, there is reason for hope. “Pat the Bunny” is a bestseller in children’s literature on Amazon. And there is no Kindle edition.