The holiday season most likely boosted the sales of smartphones and tablets. This, after many parents and adults probably thought high-technology “toys” were better than the usual dolls, train sets and Lego blocks.
There is a growing perception that electronic gadgets are more “educational” or would better help in promoting literacy and numeracy. And so, more kids got tabs and smartphones as Christmas gifts.
But it seems experts are not exactly sold on the idea that high-tech gadgets boost learning.
Bree Fowler of the Associated Press (AP), in a story carried online by MSN News, reported that “some experts note there’s no evidence that screen time—whether from a TV or tablet—provides any educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers.”
The story even warned that screen time “takes away from activities that do promote development, such as non-electronic toys and adult interaction.”
Fowler said experts cautioned that “too much screen time has been linked to behavior problems and delayed social development in older children.”
Engaging the child
The AP report quoted Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital (in Washington State, United States), saying some educational games and apps had some value “if they engage a child and prompt him to interact with the device.” However, the physician added that if all a child did was watch videos on tabs, “then it’s just like watching TV, which has a limited ability to engage a child.”
Christakis advised parents to make sure tablet time was not replacing more important activities like sleeping, reading or interacting with adults.
The pediatrician also noted that “the single 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.”
Rahill Briggs, a pediatric psychologist at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, told AP that tablet use for the youngest children should be limited.
Too much screen time, she said, could slow down language development. For older children, she said too much tablet use could slow down social development.
She expressed concern that “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.”
There are also some experts who insist that tabs and smartphones have “unique educational benefits.”
Jill Buban, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, said the more children absorbed and understood technology before they started school, the more comfortable they would be when they have to use it in class for the first time.
She, however, advised close adult monitoring of gadget use. Buban said “even the best educational apps must be monitored by parents, and limited. She recommends no more than 30 minutes of tablet usage at a time in light of the short attention spans of most young kids.”
In the same AP story, Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said parents “should be wary of any TV show or app that touts educational benefits for babies or toddlers, saying that scientists have yet to prove that there are any.
Linn said what young children need is “hands-on creative play, active time and face-to-face time with the people that love them.”
As she told AP: “The best toys are the ones that just lie there until the child transforms them. If all children do is push a button, that’s not the kind of play that promotes learning.”
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