It's 5:30 p.m., you're flying through the supermarket looking for tonight's dinner, and your toddler is having a fit. You pull out your iPad, select the "Wheels on the Bus" app, and suddenly your writhing, irritated child is peacefully selecting virtual instruments to create her own song. Mission, accomplished?
It depends on whom you ask. With Apple's introduction of the iPad two years ago, and the influx of other, similar tablets since, more than 55 million of the devices have already been sold. By 2015, researchers predict at least 275 million tablets will be in the hands of users worldwide. As it stands now, it's estimated that half of all kids in the U.S. have access to an iPad, iPhone or other touch-screen devices. It's also no surprise that nearly three-quarters of the top-selling apps target preschool and elementary-aged kids.
There is no doubt that iPads and their brethren offer an astonishing selection of apps that can help kids as young as 1 or 2 grasp concepts such as letters, counting, colors and shapes. One study, using an iPod touch, reports that kids ages 4 to 7 who used the app "Martha Speaks" showed a 27 percent increase in their vocabulary skills. And you undoubtedly have friends who swear their kids are getting smarter by using the technology.
But some experts say that interacting with iPads or other tablets may do more harm than good in young children, whose brains are still rapidly developing. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under the age of 2, specific studies on tablet use have not yet been conducted, and it's too early to know exactly how they could affect the brains of young kids.
Still, while there are no hard and fast rules about kids and tablet use, "to me, it's common sense," says Brian Mesinger, Ph.D., a Fort Collins, Colo., pediatric psychologist. Tablets "are not teaching kids to master their environment," he says. "Everything we know about child development says they need to interact with people and their world."
Tablet use, he says, like other electronics, also pose a "slippery slope" danger; 15 minutes can easily lead to two hours of screen time, or more. "Once they get their hands on it, isn't it interesting -- they want more," he says. And if a child is playing quietly, often "parents don't limit it after a while."
While tablet games may be "educational," children will learn far more by talking with others, and learning how to play independently and in groups, he says. So on a long car trip, try playing games or doing hands-on activities with your child, he says. When food shopping, have your child help by putting items in the cart or talking about what to eat, rather than having them disengage with an electronic device. If you must let your kid use your tablet, set firm time limits, and be sure to offer your child plenty of other opportunities for mental and social stimulation during the day.
Do you let your child use your iPad?
Resources: What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an IPad? Wall Street Journal.com Joan Ganz Cooney Center
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