Experts worry about toddlers on tablets

Jan 2, 2014 by

Bree Fowler –

Tablet computers are so easy to use that even a three-year-old can master them.

And that has some paediatricians and other health experts worried.

Tablets and smartphones are popular with busy parents who use them to pacify their kids, and many feel a little less guilty about it if they think there’s educational value to the apps and games their children use.

The devices are expected to have been among the top gifts for children this year. Gadget makers such as Samsung have introduced tablets specifically designed for kids and many manufacturers of adult tablets now include parental controls.

But some experts note there’s no evidence that screen time – whether from a TV or tablet – provides any educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers.

At the same time, they add, it takes away from activities that do promote brain development, such as toys and adult interaction.

They also say that too much screen time has been linked to behaviour problems and delayed social development in older children.

Dimitri Christakis, a paediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the US, points out that iPads have only been on the market for a little over three years, meaning tablet-related research is still in its infancy.

Dr Christakis says educational games and apps have some value if they engage a child and prompt them to interact with the device, but cautioned that if all children do is watch videos on their tablets, then it’s just like watching TV, which has a limited ability to engage a child.

He also notes that parents need be mindful of whether tablet time is replacing more important activities such as sleeping, reading or interacting with adults.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for kids over the age of two, but Dr Christakis thinks one hour is plenty.

“The single most important thing for children is time with parents and caregivers,” he says. “Nothing is more important in terms of social development. If time with the tablet comes at the expense of that, that’s not good.”

Dr Rahil Briggs, a paediatric psychologist at New York’s Montefiore Medical Centre, says tablet usage needs to be limited for the youngest of children, because too much screen time can slow language development.

And since there’s very little research out there so far, experts still don’t know exactly how much is too much.

For older children, Briggs says too much tablet use can slow social development. She notes that the solitary nature of the activity means that kids aren’t using that time to learn how to make friends or pick up on social cues.

Other experts believe tablets and smartphones possess unique educational benefits.

Jill Buban, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, says the more children absorb and understand technology before they start school, the more comfortable they’ll feel when they enter a classroom for the first time.

But she says even the best educational apps must be monitored by parents and limited. She recommends no more than 30 minutes of tablet usage at a time in light of the short attention spans of most young kids.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says parents should be wary of any TV show or app that touts educational benefits for babies or toddlers, saying that scientists have yet to prove that there are any.

“Babies and young children are spending huge amounts of time with screen media when really what they need is hands-on creative play, active time and face-to face time with the people that love them,” Ms Linn says.

Adam Cohen, a stay-at-home father of two from New York, says apps have been a key part of his five-year-old son Marc’s education since he was just a baby.

“Now he’s reading at close to a second-grade reading level and I credit a lot of that to iPad apps.”

Marc now has his own iPad loaded with mostly educational content, and his baby sister Harper, who isn’t yet one, seems frustrated that she doesn’t have one too, Mr Cohen says.

Still, not every parent is keen on tablets and apps.

Lance Somerfeld, another stay-at-home dad from New York, thinks he and his wife are stricter than most parents. They don’t own a tablet and didn’t allow their five-year-old son Jake to watch TV until he was nearly three.

But Mr Somerfeld says he does have an iPhone and lets Jake occasionally play with some of the apps.

“If I have an hour and a choice, I’d really rather spend it reading books with him,” Mr Somerfeld says. “But he’s really engaged by the apps, so you could make the case that there needs to be a balance.”

via Experts worry about toddlers on tablets.

Education News
by Education News
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