One does not need to read a study to learn that young children are increasingly using media devices such as smart phones and tablets, but quantifying the fact over time helps identify if the trend demands attention – which it does.
According to a new report on childrens’ media use, 38 percent of toddlers under the age of two used devices like iPhones, tablets (iPad), or Kindles compared to a similar survey done two years ago that calculated about the same number for children under 8.
That is a drastic increase leading to the pressing question that more and more health professionals as well as parents are posing– what are the negative effects of allowing children to use such technologies?
“Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, 2013” by Common Sense Media used a national survey of 1,463 parents with kids under eight to determine how children’s media environments and behaviors have changed. The San Francisco-based nonprofit organization (NGO) published a similar report in 2011, which it used as a measure of comparison in its latest study.
The increase is understandable because the report found that among families with children aged 8 and under, there was a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads compared to 2011. One of the study’s key findings was that the average amount of time children spend using mobile devices has tripled.
While iPads are often considered good learning tools at the pre-school level, these devices are often used as pacifiers to mute children when they are getting too rowdy or are simply bored. That is where a lot of the trouble lies because it makes it more difficult to ration screen time.
The market even made baby-proof casings available for mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Clearly, the increased use of these technologies by clumsy children has prompted mommies to protect their expensive Apple hardware. Some experts argue that these products fuel the use of these devices.
Going back to the original question, how bad is it for your child or rather, how much screen time is safe?
If parents were to listen to the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics’, their children under the age of 2 would have no screen time at all, including television, which according to the study still takes up half of all screen media time for all children.
The science of the effects of media devices isn’t exactly clear but at least parents and experts are talking about it. It is easy enough to research how much time your baby should be allowed to spend on an iPad or your smart phone. Media outlets and online resources often provide useful insight on what Apps are the most beneficial such as The Guardian’s recent piece on “50 best apps for kids from 2013 that parents can trust.”
Heather Kirkorian, an Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who researches toddlers’ ability to learn from video and other screen media, told The Atlantic that some devices have educational value for young children but it was too soon to be sure.
She pointed to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (naeyc) which recommended interactive screens in early-childhood classrooms back in 2011, as long as they were used appropriately. For toddlers, naeyc recommended that screen time always be accompanied by human interaction.
Kirkorian however recommended caution in the absence of more research.
Caution seems to be a good bet at a time when that four-year-olds are showing signs of smartphone/iPad addiction – similar to that of alcoholics.
In May, the telegraph interviewed Dr Richard Graham, who started the UK’s first technology addiction program three years ago, on the subject of addiction in children. Graham said that children who over-used these devices experienced the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts, when the devices were taken away.
With the increase in adults using media devices in their everyday lives, it is only natural for their children to follow. As far as allowing very young children to use iPads and iPhones, the old cliché works best here – too much of anything is bad.