It seems that there is a new article published every week discussing the use of electronic devices by our children. There is a lot of interest on this topic for a very good reason: We do know that children, many as young as 6 to 12 months, are “using” their parents’ smart phones and iPads as they learn to touch the screen to see pretty colors and sounds. Before you know it, they are even able to “double click” to get to their own pictures.
I have written about this very topic before, as I was seeing 12- and 15-month-olds whose first words included “Momma,” “Dadda” and “swipe” Then there were the toddlers asking their parents to “refresh” the screen and 3-year-olds who could type in a password to buy an app. Many of these youngsters could point to the iPad picture of their favorite video or pictures, and they could do it faster than their parents.
A new study published in Pediatrics points out that up to three-quarters of children from a lower socioeconomic class are being given smartphones, tablets and iPods of their own by the age of 4. Although the sample size of this study and survey were small, it is not hard to believe that what is happening in Philadelphia is also happening in Atlanta, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Detroit (name the city, big or small) and across all socioeconomic classes.
The study also found that one-third of parents of 3- and 4-year-olds said “their children liked to use more than one device at a time,” and 70 percent of parents reported “allowing their children ages 6 months to 4 years to play with mobile devices on their own, while the parent was otherwise occupied.”
According to the parents involved in the study, “nearly half of their children younger than 1 year used a mobile device daily to play games, watch videos or use apps,” and most 2-year-olds “used a tablet or smartphone daily.” I know that statement is true, just from watching children in my own exam rooms. The study did not look at length time the child was on the mobile device.
The biggest issue is the lack of parental supervision and involvement. While interactive apps may teach children, is it different when it is done in an isolated manner? Is listening to a bedtime story alone the same as reading with a parent? Is passive play in a room full of children on an iPad any different than group play? I have to believe that there are differences, and those studies are ongoing and will be for quite some time. It may take a generation to really see the long-term implications of young children and use of mobile devices.
To read the rest of this article, published in the Hartford Courant, please click here.