The minutes immediately preceding bedtime have traditionally been reserved for books, cuddles, prayers and other quiet-time activities, but the advent of nighty-night apps is poised to change all of that. Many families are opting not to check their iPads and smartphones at the bedroom or nursery door.
As with every parenting topic, opinions on the matter can be found on all parts of the spectrum.
"In my household technology is definitely changing the way we put our kids to bed," explains Lior Krolewicz of Los Angeles, via email, noting his family's use of bedtime tech began when his daughters were infants and slept better thanks to "white noise" apps. "As they got older the white noise changed to bedtime music, and now we read them a different story from our phones as the bookshelf collects dust."
Other parents and experts are aghast at the digital bedtime invasion. "I think it is a mistake to replace this parent-child time with a screen of some kind. The child may sleep, but child and parent are missing out on this key time to build their relationship," says Holly LaBarbera, licensed marriage and family therapist and mother to three boys in an email interview.
LaBarbera's children are teenagers or older now, but when they were younger she says their nighttime ritual consisted of reading a story together and talking about what was on their minds. Even today, "they continue to often read before falling asleep, as they have heard from me many times that screens do not relax and prepare you for sleep the way that books and reading does."
The electronic trend also can be disruptive from a medical perspective. "There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that exposure to the bright light of digital devices interferes with our ability to fall asleep," says Frederick Lane, author of eight books, including "Cybertraps for the Young" in an email interview. "If devices are seen as a normal part of the bedtime process when the children are young, they will definitely expect to have access to the devices at bedtime as they get older."
Still, apps are like bunnies and tend to multiply exponentially, no matter what the detractors say. Although one might want to argue that they're all universally damaging, many do present tantalizing virtues.
For example, kids can connect with faraway loved ones at bedtime thanks to apps like Skype and FaceTime. Panasonic's HomeTeam app ups the ante by allowing children to video chat with long-distance parents, grandparents and others, while enjoying books and games that appear next to the video stream on the screen. Others, like Bedtime Math, add an extra educational component by incorporating math problems into colorful e-stories that parent and child can read and solve together.
According to one study, nightly use of that math app gives kids a three-month edge over children of the same age and grade level. For those parents who struggle to find enough hours in the day to fit in daily math and reading work, this streamlined process could be very helpful.