Most 2-Year Olds Can Use Touchscreens, Apps, Survey Shows


New research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that most two-year-olds are capable of using touch screens and can swipe, unlock, and actively search for features on smartphones and tablets.

The report by Dr. Deirdre Murray, UCC’s INFANT Research Centre and Dept of Paediatrics and Child Health, found the interactive technology to be similar to play, with researchers suggesting that tech may play a role in childhood development assessment.

Findings for the study were based on a questionnaire pertaining to touchscreen access and use that was completed by 82 parents of children between the ages of 12 months and 3 years, with 57% of the children being boys.

Parents were asked questions about the length of time their children were allowed to use touch screens, whether or not the child could unlock the screen, swipe through pages or images, and recognize and use features including game apps.  The questionnaire also asked whether the parent had downloaded any apps specifically for their children.

The majority of parents, 82%, said they owned some sort of touchscreen device such as a smartphone or tablet.  Of those parents, 87% said they allowed their child to play on it for an average of 15 minutes each day while 62% said they had downloaded at least one app just for their child to use.

Of the parents who owned a touchscreen device, 91% said their child knew how to swipe, 50% said their child could unlock the screen, and 64% said their child could actively search for apps or pictures on their devices.

The average age of children who could perform these tasks was found to be 24 months, with the average age for finding and using specific features slightly higher at 25 months.  Around three out of four parents, 72%, felt their child could do this.

Results of the report showed that one out of three children could perform all four tasks discussed by an average age of 29 months, while children as young as 12 months were found to use touchscreens on a regular basis.

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics put out in 1999 concerning screen time for children age two and younger say that such activities should be discouraged, arguing that they put children at risk of being exposed to unsuitable material while also taking away from important developmental interactions and play time, reports Peter Russell for WebMD.

However, these recommendations came before touchscreen technology, which experts suggest could have a different impact on children’s brain development.

“Interactive touch screen applications offer a level of engagement not previously experienced with other forms of media and are more akin to traditional play,” they write. “This opens up the potential application of these devices for both assessment of development and early intervention in high risk children.”

They conclude that although apps can be found that are specifically geared toward infants and toddlers, no regulations exist concerning their quality, educational value, or safety.