Baby's first tech toys trouble experts

  • Article by: CECILIA KANG , Washington Post
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 9:32 AM

From bouncy chairs to potty seats, babies can tap away at iPads. Child development experts are appalled.

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The iPotty for iPad potty training device is see on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, in Las Vegas.

Photo: Julie Jacobson, Dml - Associated Press

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 A newborn baby cannot hold or even swipe at an iPad, but Fisher-Price is providing a way to keep infants glued to the device.

The Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat for the iPad allows parents to strap a baby to the reclining bouncy chair and slip a tablet into an attached case that hovers several inches above the infant’s face.

The seat is chafing parents and child advocates who say the introduction of screen technology so early is harmful to the health and development of babies. Fisher-Price’s seat seems to hit a new low, they say, but other retailers also are promoting holiday gifts that integrate tech into baby gear, even a potty training seat with an iPad stand.

‘Electronic baby sitter’

Fisher-Price’s iPad seat is the “ultimate electronic baby sitter, whose very existence suggests that it’s fine to leave babies as young as newborns all alone and with an iPad inches from their face,” said Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a child advocacy group. The group Tuesday launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at persuading Mattel, the parent company of Fisher-Price, to cease sales of the seat.

“Fisher-Price should stay true to its mission to foster learning and development by creating products for infants that promote, rather than undermine, interaction with caregivers,” Linn said.

Victor Strasburger, a doctor and professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, said attaching iPads to babies’ seats is “a terrible idea.”

“Does anyone out there think that kids need more screen time?” Strasburger asked. “There is no need to hurry to expose kids to new technology, certainly not babies — or newborns!”

Mattel did not respond to a request for comment on the iPad seat, but the firm promotes the seat as a way to entertain and foster a baby’s physical development. Fisher-Price describes the seat on its website as “a grow-with-me seat for baby that’s soothing, entertaining, and has a touch of technology, too.”

Mattel is under pressure by the CCFC and other advocacy groups that have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that Fisher-Price’s mobile Apptivity suite of apps deceives consumers with promised educational benefits despite little research having been done to prove that online sites can help babies’ brain development.

Mattel encourages parents to download its iPad Apptivity apps, which it says “feature soft, soothing sounds and nature scenes, black-and-white images and high-contrast patterns that help develop eye-tracking skills.”

Other retailers have created similar products aimed at putting screen devices in front of children at the earliest ages.

CTA Digital’s 2-in-1 iPotty With Activity Seat for iPad allows babies and toddlers to tap away at a tablet positioned in front of a plastic potty-training bowl. The company, which makes accessories for tablets and video games, has a commissioned study on its site that touts the use of technology in child development, including potty training.

“Many young children already love playing with their parents’ iPad, and now they can safely do so with the iPotty,” CTA Digital says on its website. “It provides a fun and comfortable place to sit, while learning how to safely use the potty, playing apps, reading books or watching video clips.”

Boom in sales

The Brooklyn-based company said that despite some criticism, it has seen a boom in sales of the iPotty. The toilet trainer was first introduced a year ago and has become the company’s second-most popular product aimed at babies and children.

“Most families have technology in the home, and the reality is that kids are exposed already, and parents are trying to find the best ways to adapt into their lives the technology in a way that is safe and thoughtful,” said Lois Eiler, marketing associate for CTA Digital. The company also sells a iRocking play seat with an attached feeding tray that can be replaced as an iPad holder.

The slew of new baby-tech products has drawn criticism from parents blasting CTA and Fisher-Price in Amazon.com’s customer-review sections. Fisher-Price’s seat had more than 100 reviews, many negative.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under age 2.

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  • CTA Digital's iPotty has a stand to hold an iPad for toddlers while they play with apps.

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