Iltifat Husain MD contributed to this piece 

Since the release of the iPad, tablet use has proliferated among the general population including children that can barely walk.

Children easily scroll through apps, stream videos and play games, yet there is some concern among pediatricians and other health experts that too much time spent on tablets can hinder their education and social development.

Many experts say there’s no evidence that screen time on tablets and televisions provides babies and toddlers with any educational or development benefits. What is clear, though, is that tablet time does take away from other non-electronic toy activities that do promote brain development as well as interaction with adults.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, tells the Associated Press that tablet related research is still in its infancy as the devices have only been on the market for three years. He also points out that educational games and apps can provide some value when children are prompted to interact with the device. Christakis cautions parents that should be mindful of tablet time replacing more important activities such as sleeping, reading and interacting with adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one or two hours of screen time a day, while Christakis believes than hour is plenty. “The most important thing for children is time with parents and caregivers, nothing is more important in terms of social development. If time with the tablet comes at the expense of that, that’s not good” says Christakis.

Dr. Rahil Briggs, pediatric psychologist at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, believes too much screen time can slow down language development and that the solitary nature of tablet activity can hinder the social skills of children.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, is concerned with the lack of “hands-on creative play, active time and face-to-face time with people that love them” that children are experiencing. She believes the “best toys are the ones that just lie there until the child transforms them.” She carries on to say that “if all children do is push a button, that’s not the kind of play that promotes learning.”

Not all opinions on tablet use by children paint a gloomy picture. Jill Buban, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury CT, says that if children absorb and understand technology before starting school, they’ll be more comfortable when they first enter the classroom. Despite this, Buban also recommends limited tablet use, even when using the best educational apps, to no more than 30 minutes a day in light of the short attention spans of children.

The developers of Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop, have created 45 apps and 160 e-books. Scott Chambers, senior vice-president for digital content at Sesame Workshop, says tablets have given them a boost as touch screen devices are much easier for preschoolers to operate than computer mice.

Additionally, content can be customized and a more interactive educational experience can also be provided through tablets than the show delivers. Some of Sesame’s apps, including their new Family Play app, encourage children to put down their devices and give parents ideas for ways to play with their children. “It’s a balancing act, but all we can do is try to provide a good enriching media experience wherever parents and preschoolers may be,” Chambers says.

iMedicalApps is currently in the process of doing a mini-lit review of this topic to see the evidence behind tablet use in the pediatric population. 

Source: Associated Press