These are my favorite responses to a question about an 18 month old who likes an iPad:
What if it were something else he were engaged that deeply with? Would you feel the same worry? Building something? Playing in the sand? A puzzle? Books as he figured out how to read? (It's been known to happen!) Climbing?
How is the iPad different than a book? How is it worse? How is it better? Are those differences significant to be concerned with? Why do you think so?
and Pam Sorooshian wrote next...
I do think that you will feel better and better about it the more you do what you were doing at the beginning of your post - notice the learning. But, even if you weren't able to see the learning, there is learning happening ALL the time. So keep that in mind.
But there is something more. Play along with me here. What if there is NO learning happening when he's playing with the ipad? So what? Do you think he needs to be learning something every single minute of the day? What if that is a big blank spot in his day where no neurons are firing (except those keeping him alive, of course)? What if?
What's his purpose of existence right now? To build up his brain so he'll reach his maximum capacity of intelligence? American parent are obsessed with how smart their kids are. Are you? Or can he just play with it because he wants to? Isn't the fact that he wants to play with it enough? Are you worried that he's "missing out" on the learning he'd be doing during that time? He could be learning more? Better stuff? More useful learning that would help him more as he grows up? Make him more successful? What's the point? (Things to ask yourself, not answer here.)
Or - think about this. More than missing out on other learning he could be gaining, do you secretly in your heart of hearts still think it is actually doing him damage? Destroying brain cells? Most recent article I read (just this morning) was about how a group of old people playing video games increased their ability to pay attention to more information at once and that ability was generalized beyond just the video game and beyond the time they continued playing. They had not previously played and in the study they only played 3 hours a week for a month and the benefits to their brain function were measurable.
A toddler is interested in books. The parents are concerned that that is not a good activity for their child who should be doing other things that are more developmentally appropriate. So they restrict his book time and, being kind parents, they try to distract him from books by keeping them out of his sight and by finding him many other fun things to do in place of them.
Is this sensible? An iPad is like a wonderful book to a child these days. To deny them the experience of growing up with something like this is, in my opinion, not different than keeping books away from them. It comes out of an overwhelming love for the child that makes you want to do something, anything, to protect him from any and all possible harm ever. That is fear-based thinking, though, and it is better for your child if you choose to live a life in which you embrace those things your child loves and find the joy and sweetness in them.
There are so many things we'd like to protect our children from and we'd like so much to do everything exactly right. Right?
That's why people get very very defensive about food or tv or other things they've glommed onto as ways to protect their child! Protect! It comes from fear. It makes them feel better to think they are taking control of something to protect their child because we all know that things happen that are out of our control and it terrifies us that something happen to our little ones.
Be careful about living a life ruled by unreasonable fear or you'll be overprotective and controlling of your kids. That won't go well for your relationship with your child, especially as the child gets older. Start now to practice using your emotions (fear and love) to inform your intellect, but use your intellect to make decisions. Say to yourself, "Yes, I have some fear about this, but I understand where that fear is coming from and I don't think it is a reasonable reaction to this situation so I'm not going to make my decisions based on it. I am going to decide based on what makes sense to me logically.
Have courage. Courage means choosing to do something in spite of fear.
Something by Deb Lewis about courage:
If you lost all your books, but had your iPad, you could still read. If you lost all your art supplies, but had your iPad, you could still draw. If you lost your garden, but had your iPad, you could still see how plants grow.
An hour isn't very long! And if that's the longest he spends engaged with anything, it's worth considering what's so wonderful and if there are other ways to give him more of the same —more music, maybe, or some simple musical instruments. Or more simple cause-and-effect relationships. He might like an electronic keyboard—those are great fun.