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iPads for Toddlers? Our Experts Weigh In

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Last week, the Washington Post’s On Parenting blog posted about tablets, like iPads and Leapfrogs, as gifts for kids, describing an increasing desire among kids to have one – as well as an increase in products and companies marketing products targeted at kids.

As the parent of a toddler with the word “iPad” in her vocabulary, I wanted to check with our experts to get their thoughts. Most people are familiar with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation on screen time, but what about tablets? Are they somehow better, or more appropriate, for kids than TV?
I spoke with Britlan Malek, PhD, a child psychologist and mom of two young children. Like other experts I spoke with, she said tablets are not appropriate for children under age 4.

How Toddlers Learn
Toddlers and young children learn by playing, social engagement, and experience, according to Dr. Malek. I’m trying to teach my 2-year-old how to share. But a tablet is a very solitary device; it’s not designed for sharing.

Listening is another important learning tool for toddlers. Children should be listening to what people are saying and learn to mimic the sounds and movements, says Penny Glass, PhD, Director of the Child Development Program. She echoes the concerns raised by Dr. Malek, particularly that tablets and electronic devices don’t encourage children to interact with other children and develop social skills, and important step for young children.

Dr. Malek told me she recently saw a mom who was shopping, pushing twins, who were about 18 months old. Each child had an iPad. “The world was going on around them and they weren’t participating,” says Dr. Malek.

Giving Parents a Break
Many parents use tablets or other electronics as a way to give themselves a break when they’re trying to multitask. But our team encourages families to involve the kids in making dinner, doing laundry, or other household tasks.

Dr. Malek acknowledges the tablets probably gave the twins’ mother another 20 minutes of shopping time, but her children are missing out on important development and learning.

Unknown Long-Term Consequences
Because this is new technology, there aren’t any long-term studies available. But our experts are concerned about how consumption of technology at a young age can wire the brain.

And companies that are marketing products – apps, DVDs, electronics – as educational and toddler-friendly aren’t basing their claims on any research. This makes it especially confusing for parents. 

The bottom line, according to our experts, is to exercise caution when considering electronics for toddlers.

“I don’t want children to miss the world around them,” says Dr. Malek. “There’s so much opportunity to ask questions, engage in conversations, and interact with the environment.”

That’s good advice, that I’ll try to remember the next time my daughter asks for my iPad.

Look for our next post on iPads for school-age children.

Categories: Toddlers
Authors: Emily Dammeyer


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