At CommonSense Media, a respected US non-profit organization that promotes safe technology and media for children, the youngest age category for iPad reviews is 2 years. Is this surprising, confronting or comforting do you think?
The more you think about it, this age category for reviews is not surprising at all. Walk along the toy aisle in any department store and most toys in the younger section have buttons to press to make them beep, sing, move or flash with coloured lights. The exact same things happen when a young child interacts with a touch screen device. So if it is not surprising based on society today, is it simply that as parents, we sit in the generation that is learning to accept a new identity within childhood.
Are touchscreens a problem for toddlers
Researching the effect of touchscreen devices on young children is relatively recent and Swinburne University in Victoria is taking an active role. The Swinburne BabyLab, led by Dr Jordy Kaufman, is a research facility specialising in cognitive, social and brain development in infants and young children.
One of its current key studies explores the use of touchscreen technology among children aged 2-12 years. Some of the questions being investigated are
- Can children learn from touchscreen devices?
- Do different activities on a touchscreen affect children’s thinking in different ways?
- Does touchscreen use impact children’s emotions?
Touchscreens Vs TV
The argument against the use of touchscreens is primarily based on existing evidence that television viewing has a negative impact on creativity and learning but Dr Kaufman points out there is a significant difference between passive television watching and interactive tablet use.
Play Vs Screens
Initial findings have been positive indicating touch screens appear to motivate and enhance learning and that creative play on an iPad has a similar effect to the corresponding physical activity, in terms of behaviour and attention span.
“We give them creative activities such as drawing and block building,” Dr Kaufman says. “So far, there has been no difference between touch-screen and real-world activities when it comes to slow-paced creative activities. We are not finding any difference in their skills whether they are using a tablet or a toy. If you are careful with the applications you choose, we haven’t found any negative effects on attention span.” (Swinburne University Venture Magazine #18)
Dr Kaufman said investigations into emotional responses such as a temper tantrum when an iPad is taken away, would consider whether the response was specific to the device or was a result of the child being denied what they wanted.
What Should We Do?
The results of research, such as that being conducted at Swinburne BabyLab, will help us as parents make informed decisions about a young child’s use of touchscreen and other technology.
In the interim, the best approach is one of common sense, limiting the time spent using a touchscreen and ensuring this time is balanced with other physical activity and play. Dr Kaufman applies these guidelines to his son’s iPad use.
Interested parents are encouraged to complete the surveys on Touch Screen Use (children 2 – 12) and/or Media Use by Children (under 8) on the BabyLab Parent Research webpage