When my children were young 25 years ago, when we waited to see the doctor, at the car repair shop, or in any other potentially trying situation for young active children, we cuddled and read books together, or I brought their favorite toys (which I let them choose) and we played together.
Today, when I walk into a waiting room, I see parents engrossed in their magazines or talking to each other while their toddlers play on i-pads or other electronic devices. Sure, the children are quiet, but is this really good for the children?
Advocates claim that introducing very young children to computers gives them an intellectual head start. They believe computer programs designed for toddlers can increase hand-eye coordination and attention span, and stimulate budding minds.
While computer programs may be designed to do this, everything we know about brain development tells us that there are also trade-offs. Certainly toddlers have the attention span to use electronic devices, but when these devices are used as frequent “babysitters,” isolating children from parent contact, the cost is decreased language development, exploration, and parent-child bonding which we know are essential activities for healthy growth and development in the early years.
I’m not advocating that parents deprive toddlers and preschoolers of technology. There are many valuable computer programs that can help children learn. However, like the everyday world we live in, none should be used with children in the first 5 years without adult interaction.
Of course, we want our children to grow up capable of using technology to access information, and it is beyond dispute that the colors and action on the screen are captivating to young minds. So when sharing technology with children, remember two things:
- Interact with your child when using technology; encourage your children to predict what might happen when they press a button in the game, stop the e-book mid-way and ask the child to retell the story; or show how you can look up the answer to his or her questions using technology.
- Technology does not replace tangible books, blocks, and crayons and paper. Children need to physically manipulate objects to learn about them.
- Common Sense Media: Tips for managing screen time for preschoolers.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Media use and early brain development (audio).