It seems that there is a new article published every week discussing the use of electronic devices by our children. There is a lot of interest on this topic for a very good reason…as we do know that children, many as young as 6-12 months are “using” their parents smart phones and iPads, as they learn to touch the screen to see pretty colors and sounds. Before you know it they are even able to “double click” to get to their own pictures.
I have written about this very topic before, as I was seeing 12-15 month olds whose first words included Momma, Dadda, and “swipe” Then there were the toddlers asking their parents to “refresh” the screen and 3 year olds who could type in a password to buy an app. Many of these youngsters could point to the iPad picture of their favorite video or pictures and they could do it faster than their parents.
Another new study just published in Pediatrics points out that up to three-quarters of children from a lower socio-economic class are being given smartphones, tablets and I-pods of their own by the age of 4 years. Although the sample size of this study and survey were small…it is not hard to believe that what is happening in Philadelphia is also happening in Atlanta, LA, St. Louis, Detroit, Dallas, Miami…..name the city, big or small and across all socio-economic classes.
The study also found that one-third of parents of 3-4 year olds said “their children liked to use more than 1 device at a time”, and 70% of parents reported “allowing their children ages 6 months-4 years to play with mobile devices on their own, while the parent was otherwise occupied”.
According to the parents involved in the study, “nearly half of their children younger than 1 year used a mobile device daily to play games, watch videos or use apps”, and most 2 year olds “used a tablet or smartphone daily”. I know that statement is true, just from watching children in my own exam rooms. The study did not look at length time the child was on the mobile device.
The biggest issue is the lack of parental supervision and involvement. While interactive apps may teach children, is it different when it is done in an isolated manner? Is listening to a bedtime story alone the same as reading with a parent? Is passive play in a room full of children on iPad any different than group play? I have to believe that there are differences and those studies are ongoing and will be for quite some time. It may take a generation to really see the long term implications of young children and use of mobile devices.
While the AAP has re-looked at their recommendations regarding screen time for younger children, pediatricians are still recommending setting time limits for screen time and making “unplugged” play a priority in every family. I don’t think the “magic number is 2 hours for all”….but what is too much?? How do you disconnect from technology when even your kindergartner is given an iPad at school?
So you will continue to see much written on this topic…but as Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at the University of Washington stated, “children need laps more than apps”.