The other day I came across this article from Huffington Post that claims that handheld devices should be banned from children under 12. The author says that children should not start watching TV until they are three years old and should not use handheld devices until they are 13. On the topic of toddlers and technology, while I don’t think highly of TV, I cannot imagine keeping phones and tablets from my children until they are teenagers. How would that even be possible? When my daughter was one and a half, she was better at using my iPhone than my mom! The article made me think: am I making a wrong parenting decision allowing my toddlers to use my iPhone, iPad, and laptop? After all, the author brought up the American Academy of Pediatrics and research that links media use with developmental problems. So I decided to investigate and here is what I found out.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in fact, suggests that television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. They say it’s because child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens. The key word in this recommendation, however, is entertainment. I think it would be wrong to sit a child of this (or any) age in front of TV instead of playing with them, talking to them, showing them new things, or otherwise paying attention to them. Nevertheless, handheld devices and other screen technology are a powerful educational medium. There are educational videos, like Baby Einstein, developed for and directed at infants. There are foreign language videos, like Little Pim, that state that infancy is the best age for foreign language immersion. There are preschool phone apps, like EduKitty, that teach matching and selection. There are alphabet tracing apps, like Letter Quiz, that teach toddlers recognizing and writing letters. Sometimes I take my children with me when I go to the doctor, and when I am waiting for my appointment, I would much rather they use educational apps than pay attention to a questionable TV program from the waiting room’s wall TV. You don’t always pack a stack of books, but you always have your phone for unexpected long waiting periods.
It would also be difficult and even unfair to keep toddlers from the screens and devices. Children learn from their environment, and in our modern day environment technology is everywhere. Whether or not you have the TV playing in the background, kids observe people interacting with handheld devices and other screens almost daily. They see their parents work on the computer, read news on the tablet, check the weather on the phone, and so on. The natural curiosity and the desire to imitate adults draw children toward the bright and colorful screens with changing pictures. So why wouldn’t you share? When I am sweeping and my toddler wants to help, I hand her the broom and show her how to use it. When I am making breakfast, and my girls are curious and willing to try doing new things, I give them boiled eggs and an egg cutter. So when they see me work on my phone, I also find age-appropriate ways they could interact with it. Of course, if it was harmful, I would keep them away. But exactly how harmful is it?
The claims that link media use in infants to possible delayed development, mental illnesses, obesity, etc., are only valid when it comes to overuse of technology, but not moderate supervised use balanced out by ample outside play, healthy nutrition, and human interaction. In fact, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates that there are no associations between children being exposed to child-oriented educational or even noneducational content at the age of 6 months and lower cognitive or language development at the age of 14 months.
There are also claims that infants don’t learn words from educational DVD’s. I didn’t need to further research this point, because I know that this is not the case with my family. Before my first daughter turned one, my husband bought her a Little Pim set that included DVD’s that showed adults, children, and cartoon characters performing everyday activities and named actions and items in a foreign language. In our case, it was French. Even though my husband and I both know French, we never use it at home to speak to each other or our children. At the 2-year check up, my daughter’s doctor asked us if she knew at least 200 words. This made me sit down at home and write out all words she could say at that point. There were about 400 words on the list, but what surprised me most was that the majority of the words were French.
Long story short, I will keep sharing my iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro with my preschoolers. After all, their generation will probably be developing apps by the time they graduate from high school. Whether we like it or not, handheld learning is here to stay.