Parenting

Fisher-Price Releases Exercise Bike for Screen-Addicted Toddlers

This past Wednesday, toy maker Fisher-Price announced:

The Think & Learn Smart Cycle is essentially a giant video-game controller allowing children to pedal their way through games as they watch a video monitor or a tablet affixed to the handlebars.

Youngsters who otherwise might be tiny couch potatoes can burn calories — and may even learn a thing or two — thanks to an app included with the bike that incorporates subjects like reading, math, science and social studies.

“We know preschoolers learn best and retain more when they’re active, but they’re also really fascinated with technology like apps,” said Amber Pietrobono, a spokeswoman for Fisher-Price.

“We hope kids will have so much fun playing and pedaling that they won’t even realize they’re learning through content in the apps.”

Wow. That’s a new low in “learning toys” that really has nothing to do with learning at all. It’s already been proven that toddlers don’t have the abstract thinking skills to fully process letters and numbers on paper, let alone on a screen. Now we’re supposed to believe they’re studying heady topics like math and social studies via TV thanks to a toy?

Better yet, why would your toddler need to know anything about any of these topics? Because the federal government has convinced us our kids need to keep up with China’s best and brightest? Or is it because parents who see their kids spending more and more time in front of screens are starting to get scared that their kids are going to be obese morons?

Don’t get me wrong: I love Fisher-Price, as does my son. Their Little People line is a classic and I am beyond thrilled that they’ve re-released many of their classic toys including a 45 rpm record player that my toddler and I will be using when the snow hits. But anyone who has watched their child with an electronic toy knows how quickly they’re able to pick up on simple button-smashing sequencing without ever really processing what they hear when the button is smacked. Thanks to our country’s obsession with Spanish, my kid has tons of bilingual electronic toys and he has yet to master “dog” in English, let alone en Espanol.

False advertising or crudely effective marketing? You decide. The company’s first edition of the exercise bike for toddlers hit the market in 2007 when talk about child obesity was hot stuff. The buzz informing this latest release?

According to a survey conducted by Fisher-Price, preschool children spend 21 percent of their playtime with electronic devices and another 19 hours a week watching TV or videos.

The new version offers parents the ability to view their child’s progress through, what else, a smartphone app. See, the company is bringing families together in front of screens; that’s what I call statistic-friendly family quality time. So what if doctors are recommending that kids in the toy’s target age range shouldn’t spend more than an hour in front of the television every day? With their feet on pedals it’s like they’re not even watching TV at all.