It’s a controversial topic – but there’s no doubting that the use of iPads and tablets among children, along with other electronic devices, has rapidly increased over the past number of years. While there are definitely benefits of age-appropriate technology, there have been many studies linking overuse of technology and too much screentime with bad sleep, behavioural issues and obesity. So for most older kids, it’s a case of everything in moderation – remember that any toy, device, or activity can be harmful if it is used excessively. As a parent it’s important to help your child find that balance.
Here are some pros & cons of children using electronic devices:
- Tablets are more interactive & engaging than other devices (like television)
- Studies have found that educational games can help with language, spelling and cognitive skills
- Your child will be familiar with technology from a young age
- Tablets limit physical activity
- Tablets can infringe on face-to-face social interaction
- Can limit free-flow imagination and creativity
- Screens and games can be addictive and cause behavioural changes or sleep deprivation
So what about younger children? Experts generally agree that children under the age of two shouldn’t have any screentime, or at least, very very short periods of time, eg a quick cartoon. The reason is that the brains of babies and toddlers are developing rapidly, and tablets, smartphones and screens in general can unintenionally harm them. According to Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, too much screen time too soon “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”
According to Psychology Today, in order for the brain’s neural networks to develop normally during the critical period (the first few years of life), a child needs specific stimuli from the outside environment, stimuli that has evolved over centuries of evoluion and therefore not found on a tablet. The issue is that a tablet/screen does the thinking for a child – for instance, if a mother reads her child a story, the child is intepreting the story, listening to her voice, using his/her imagination to picture the story – but that same story on a tablet is simply delivered to the child already worked out. Thus, the child’s cognitive skills stay weak. In addition, too much screentime can interfere with the developoment of the brain’s frontl lobe, which is responsible for our social interactions – for learning empathy and how to read non-verbal cues when interacting with people.
So what’s the answer? It’s impossible to keep your child away from modern technology forever – and remember, there’s a lot to be learned from technology. But in the early years, it’s not a good idea, and even as your child gets older, it’s a good idea to restrict its usage. Keep an eye out for any changes in personality or sleep patterns, as these could indicate that your child is getting too much screentime.