Sunday, May 27, 2012

Should Toddlers Use iPads?

ZDNet, Jason D. O'Grady
It's been two years since the iPad was released, and already nearly 40% of children ages 2-4 use one or a similar device, according to Common Sense Media. Now pediatric neuroscientists, psychologists and researchers are racing to study the affects of these devices on toddlers' brain development. They worry that due to the lack of current research on the subject, the majority of the experimentation actually takes place in homes with real children as the "guinea pigs" (What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an iPad by Ben Worthen, Wall Street Journal)

The concern is that young brains develop at its highest pace between birth and age three, and it's possible that iPad use could interfere with the development of important neural connections. We already know that the amount of TV a child watches directly correlates with the likelihood he or she will have attention span issues. But some scientists suggest that issues related to the iPad could be even more significant, because the device is interactive and holds young children "captive" for much longer than a television screen. According to Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital: "One of the strengths of the iPad"—it is interactive—"may be the weakness."

One way that tablets get a lock on that attention span is through a known biochemical process. Science has shown that the rewards and "exciting visuals" that apps and digital games provide cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurochemical associated with pleasure. This dopamine release encourages kids - and everyone else - to use the device longer and more frequently.

Side note: I'm actually a little confused now. I thought that one reasons experts are concerned with television watching is because a child's focus gets interrupted too often. But now I'm reading that iPads may be harmful because they don't allow for enough interruption. Is it simply that the desire to use an iPad is that much stronger than watching TV, and even more hours are consumed with the tablet? I'd love some clarification.

Anyhow, back to the article. Experts are concerned that iPad use could affect toddlers' development of decision making skills. The example given in the article compares the iPad to Legos. A child playing with Legos determines when her creation is finished. In the case of an iPad app, the app decides when the child has completed the task. It is "unclear whether this difference has any impact on a child."

On the home front, parents like the iPad because some educational apps help kids learn, and some use it as a tool to entertain children and keep them quiet. Still, parents worry that it may make their "kids more sedentary and less sociable."

Mr. Worthen concludes his article:
My wife and I stopped letting our son use the iPad. Now he rarely asks for it. He is 4 and his friends aren't talking about cool iPad games, so he doesn't feel he's missing out.
When it comes to toddlers, this is such a good rule of thumb. If they don't know what they're missing, and they're just as happy without it, why let them use it? I doubt they'll be less tech-savvy or academically prepared than their peers if parents postpone the use of devices like the iPad until they have a chance to develop more. What's the magic age? I don't know. I'm not an expert, but my gut says that a toddler may just be too young.

Other articles on iPad and toddlers:

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