Monday, 22 April 2013

Is it okay for toddlers to use tablets?

Yes, there's another article about toddlers getting addicted to tablets, from the UK Telegraph newspaper this time. This is the kind of thing that gets technophobes tutting and shaking their heads when they see a young child playing with a tablet or smartphone.

Is it possible for toddlers to spend too much time using a tablet? Of course it is! But for me it's not about any harmful effects caused by the use of the tablet. It's about all the other things that toddlers need to fit into their day like splashing in puddles, learning to run without falling over and scraping their knees, playing with play dough, chasing pigeons (was that just mine?) and climbing the furniture.

The media seems to focus a lot of the amount of time a toddler spends using a tablet rather than what they are doing with it.

If a toddler spent hours a day looking at picture books we'd probably think that was wonderful. What if those picture books are on a tablet. How different does that make the activity?

Likewise, drawing (well scribbling mostly) is considered to be time well spent for toddlers. Is this less valid when it's done on an electronic device?

What if parent and child play a game of virtual snap on the tablet?

And are toddler games on tablets somehow less worthy than playing with interactive toys? What if there's a physical apptivity toy involved (and we're going to be seeing more of those aimed at toddlers and preschoolers) or if it involves augmented reality and doing things in the real world.

I'm not a great fan of large amounts of passive TV watching for kids. Mine mostly got to see nature documentaries and shows like Go! Diego Go! that would ask questions and get them shouting out at the screen (but that's partly to do with me finding much of modern kids TV too painful to endure.) Tablets give us the opportunity to make much more interactive content available to kids. If kids are using too much of their tablet time to passively watch videos then I'd agree that could be a problem, though it does depend on the content.

It seems to be that a tablet does a good job of replacing the activities it displaces and that such uses of a tablet are fine.

Where there's an issue is if it starts to displace activities that it can't compensate for. Like time spent talking with parents and siblings, running around, looking for bugs in the dirt, learning to peel the back of stickers (so Mum doesn't have to) or visiting a zoo or a farm.
 Tablets are going to get more prevalent in young kids lives. The sale of iPads Android devices and learning tablets has affected the toy industry and they are looking at ways of building on the use of tablets by little kids rather than fighting it. We're going to see more and more toys that make use of a tablet.

Kids attractions are also making use of technology. Is it awful if there's an interactive display at the zoo where toddlers can touch to hear more about the animals. Does that count towards their screen-time for the day?

More and more it's not going to be a case of tablet time versus non tablet time. Technology is getting more and more integrated into everyday life. Kids can be experiencing the world and using technology at the same time.

Instead of counting the minutes that junior has access to an electronic device and imposing sanctions, let's move the focus to making sure toddlers get the chance to develop the full range of social, physical and thinking skills that they'll need as they get older.

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