In today’s tech-savvy world, many babies learn how to operate an iPad around the same time they figure out how to crawl. While technology certainly makes parenting easier in many ways, are we hurting our young children by exposing them to electronic devices at such young ages?
The American Pediatrics Society frowns on any kind of screen time for kids under the age of two. This is the stage where the brain develops rapidly, and though little fingers may be equipped to navigate any type of touch screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be handling such devices.
“Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their developmental success,” Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises, told PBS.
Many child psychologists argue interactive apps can interfere with a child’s story comprehension. They can also stunt a child’s early language development, since they can’t adequately duplicate the expressions, tones, body language and gestures of a human speaker. Those linguistic cues play crucial roles in teaching a child to communicate properly, according to a recent video report by Discovery News.
Touch is the No. 1 means of communication in early childhood learning. So when you take away opportunities for a baby to squeeze, feel, chew and grab, you could be robbing them of tools that lend themselves to a variety of developmental milestones.
In short, no app can take the place of a parent willing to interact, play, entertain and teach a small child.
“Of course it’s impossible and impractical to keep babies from the devices that are everywhere in our lives, but this is merely a report on the importance of continuing real-life contact and interactions with children instead of letting a device raise and teach the child so we can continue letting our devices run our lives,” said Ross Everett in his Discovery News report.
The effects of baby iPad use can extend beyond the toddler years when devices are used as the full-time nanny. Experts warn that excessive media use at a young age can set unhealthy habits that can be difficult to break.
On average, kids spend about seven hours a day on entertainment media — computers, smartphones, televisions, etc. — American Academy of Pediatrics. Multiple studies have shown that when a child spends too much time staring at a screen, they are more prone to attention problems, sleep and eating disorders, obesity, and having difficulty in school.
Don’t round up your electronics for a bonfire just yet, though. When used properly, electronic devices can actually serve as effective learning tools once a child hits the age of 3.
“Many children are active media users and can benefit from electronic media with educational content,” said Jaynes. “This content often uses strategies such as repeating an idea, presenting images and sounds that capture attention, and using child rather than adult voices for the characters.”
The key, experts say, is the right amount of supervision and parental involvement.
“In a supervised environment, children as young as 4 or 5 are able to engage in learning activities using smartphones and tablets of all kinds,” Jeannie Galindo, a district supervisor of instructional technology, told PBS. “In an unsupervised environment, I wouldn’t recommend a smartphone or tablet purchase for a child until at least between the ages of 11 and 13.”
The best way to maximize the benefits of educational media is to interact with your child throughout their experience. Sit down with your kid when they’re working on an app or game. Discuss it with them, help them with questions they might have and, most importantly, be a part of the process, Jaynes said. When your child is watching a TV program, watch with them. “Co-viewing” can actually increase your child’s comprehension skills.
Another crucial factor in setting a healthy standard for media use: Setting time limits.
Galindo recommends no more than a half hour per sitting for kids ages 4 to 5, an hour limit for kids 6 to 7, and no more than two hours for a high school student.