Parents and Toddlers’ Tablets

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Ok honey, mommy needs to get some work done. It is time for your show”, said the mother to her two year old daughter.

The mother put a tablet computer in her daughter’s hands and started cleaning dishes. Her daughter swiped a couple of times and soon Sesame Street came on the tablet. The little girl sat down and started watching.

As the situation above illustrates, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have permeated every aspect of life. This now includes the lives of toddlers and preschoolers. In a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, almost half of one year olds used a mobile device on a daily basis. This use increased to three out of four children by the time they were two years old.

Parents are increasingly giving their toddlers and preschoolers access to these mobile devices as they have found that the tablets and smartphones can serve as a “digital pacifier” for their young children. Most children at this age play games, watch videos, or use apps. The most popular use for these devices is to watch videos on YouTube or Netflix.

While their children are occupied with these devices, parents take the opportunity to do chores or run errands. They also come in handy in keeping children calm in public places like restaurants or on trips in the car.

These mobile devices have become so helpful to parents that many are starting to buy devices specifically for their toddlers and preschoolers to use. By four years old, three out of four preschoolers have exclusive access to a mobile device in their household. It should come as no surprise then that mobile devices are displacing television as the major source of media consumption for these youngsters.

Anyone who has been in a restaurant or on a long road trip with young children can see why parents would leap at the opportunity for something that keeps them calm for long periods of time. However, questions arise regarding how much exposure to these devices is acceptable before it crosses the line to being harmful.

This is a question that child experts are continuing to debate. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that it was reviewing its’ recommendation regarding children who are younger than two years old having no mobile device exposure. This review was sparked due to the high percentage of preschoolers and toddlers who are already using these devices daily.

Since parents have very little guidance on this issue, they must rely on some common sense guidelines. The main guideline parents should follow is the age old adage of moderation in all things. It is unlikely that much harm will come to toddlers and preschoolers if they use mobile devices briefly every day. The danger comes when children spend most of their time on these devices and not spending it interacting with others or exploring the physical world around them.

When children are this young, they need human interaction in order to fully develop emotionally and socially. If parents choose to give their children mobile devices at this young of an age, then parents should use the devices with them. Sharing these activities together can help with bonding.

Toddlers and preschoolers use of mobile devices is rising and will likely continue to do so. Parents will need to strike a balance in using these devices and try to encourage their children to explore the physical word as much as the digital one.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on November 6, 2015

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