Megan, the 3-year-old daughter of a teaching colleague, is a wonder on the iPad, but is it really a good idea for toddlers to spend hours staring at electronic screens?
Are parents who allow their babies and toddlers to play on tablet computers or other electronic devices for several hours a day in danger of causing serious long-term effects?
Since the iPad has only been around only since 2010, the science on how the iPad affects young children isn’t yet clear: some experts see them as developmentally inappropriate, while others see some benefits to the technology. (Of course, with the latest iPad costing $829, some parents don’t have to deal with this problem.)
Technology Addiction Program For Toddlers
Dr. Richard Graham definitely sees the downsides. He launched the UK’s first technology addiction program three years ago, and his youngest client is just four years old. (There are now several such programs, both in the US and in the UK.)
From The Daily Telegraph:
Her parents enrolled her for compulsive behaviour therapy after she became increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when the iPad was taken away from her.
Her use of the device had escalated over the course of a year and she had become addicted to using it up for to four hours a day.
The child’s mother called me and described her symptoms,” he said.
“She told me she had developed an obsession with the device and would ask for it constantly. She was using it three to four hours every day and showed increased agitation if it was removed.”
Dr Graham points out that these are the same withdrawal symptoms as those experienced by alcoholics or heroin addicts, when the devices were taken away.
I believe him! I recall a couple of years ago when I removed a cell phone from one of my 5th Period Spanish 1 students, who had been trying to text in class, and she was inconsolable. She wasn’t just angry with me: she was crying her heart out, feeling a deep pain at the loss of something so important to her.
The Telegraph also refers to a program for parents who have found themselves unable to wean their children off computer games and mobile phones: they are paying up to £16,000 (around $25,000) for a 28-day “digital detox” program designed by Dr. Graham at the Capio Nightingale clinic in London.
How did we get to this?
How Many 2-To-4-Year-Olds Have iPads?
A 2011 survey of parents by Common Sense Media, an organization that provides media education for families, found that 39 percent of 2-to-4-year-olds have used digital media such as smartphones and iPads. The number is undoubtedly higher by now.
In a 2013 survey conducted by Babies.c0.uk, 55% of parents questioned stated that they let their children use a smartphone or tablet.
Parents are apparently concerned about this: 69% of parents questioned felt that use of a smartphone or tablet would, or might, help to disconnect a baby from their relationship with their parents, and 81% of respondents believed that youngsters used smartphones and tablets too much and spent too much time with them.
On the other hand, 45% of parents never let their children use a smartphone or tablet, while around 1 in 7 of parents let their children spend 4 or more hours a day with a smartphone or other device in their hands. Wow! That’s a lot of hours.
No Electronic Screens For Under-2s
Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say:
Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.
Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.
Amen to that! Children and toddlers need to be running around, not sitting hunched up over iPads. They need to socialize with other kids, connect with nature, develop their own imagination and play creatively.
The idea of a 3- or 4-year-old spending hours indoors staring at a small screen is scary. Technology is great, but let’s use it in moderation.
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