Despite tablets being so easy to use and fascinating to so many kids, they may have a negative impact on childhood development. Experts suggest that continued use of these craved-for devices could hamper children's learning or brain development.
No educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers from continued exposure to screen time on either TV or tablets is evident according to experts. Yet, activities that do promote brain development, such as non-electronic toys and adult interaction, are taken away by this screen time. As experts put it, behavior problems and delayed social development in older children is linked to too much screen time.
Tablet-related research is still in its infancy according to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, who pointed out that iPads have only been on the market for a little over three years. Additionally, he said that if educational games and apps engage a child and prompt them to interact with the device, then some value can be found in them. However, he cautioned that if all children do is watch videos on their tablets, then it's just like watching TV, which has a limited ability to engage a child.
"The single most important thing for children is time with parents and caregivers," he says. "Nothing is more important in terms of social development. If time with the tablet comes at the expense of that, that's not good."
Tablet usage needs to be limited for the youngest of children, because too much screen time can slow language development according to a pediatric psychologist at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, Dr. Rahil Brigg. In addition, she says that experts still don't know exactly how much is too much as so far, there's very little research out there. She also says that too much tablet use can slow social development for older children. The solitary nature of the activity means that kids aren't using that time to learn how to make friends or pick up on social cues, she notes.
However, according to Bree Fowler of Associated Press, unique educational benefits are possessed by tablets and smartphones as some experts believe.
The more children absorb and understand technology before they start school, the more comfortable they'll feel when they enter a classroom for the first time as a dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury Conn., Jill Buban says. However, she warns that parent should monitor and limit even the best educational apps. No more than 30 minutes of tablet usage at a time in light of the short attention spans of most young kids is what she recommends.
"There's so much media out there and so much marketing," she says. "It's all about smart choices and research, whether it's an app on a tablet or a TV show."
The director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Susan Linn, says that as scientists have yet to prove that there are any positives, parents should be wary of any TV show or app that touts educational benefits for babies or toddlers.
"Babies and young children are spending huge amounts of time with screen media when really what they need is hands-on creative play, active time and face-to face time with the people that love them," Linn said.
The Federal Trade Commission by Linn's group, known for its allegations against "Baby Einstein" videos that eventually led to consumer refunds, to examine the marketing practices of certain apps and games geared toward babies.
"The best toys are the ones that just lie there until the child transforms them," Linn said pointing to blocks and stuffed animals as examples. "If all children do is push a button, that's not the kind of play that promotes learning."