Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Use of "Touch Screen Devices" by Toddlers

The  American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long cautioned parents to limit media exposure of young children and updated their recommendations as recently as 2013.

A new study on this subject from a team led by Dr. Ruth Milanaik, an attending developmental and behavioral physician at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York on Long Island, New York, looked at the very youngest children -- infants and toddlers up to age three -- to examine what the researchers called "touchscreen device usage" or TDU, to see how use of or exposure to such devices as smart phones and iPads impacts children's development.

Dr. Milanaik noted that the study was prompted, in part, by the observation that the "number one toy" that parents gave their children to play with at a newborn follow-up clinic was a smartphone. In an article on the study in Forbes, she noted that parents were substituting smart phones for books and other baby toys and stated, "Many parents did not seem to bring any other distraction for their children except the touch screen devices.”

The study found that the majority of parents questioned believed that TDU had educational benefits. However, developmental scores showed no significant difference between children who had access to such devices and those who did not. Furthermore, children who played non-educational games (such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja) on touchscreen devices had lower receptive & expressive language scores compared to children who engaged in other types of TDU. The authors caution that it is possible that children with slower language development may prefer playing non-educational games and that it would be inappropriate to conclude that lower scores in language were caused by TDU.

Dr. Paul Yellin commented,  "Dr. Millanaik’s quote may get to the heart of the matter. It may not be the devices per se, but rather the fact that they are used instead of reading or speaking to children. This is consistent with recent research demonstrating the importance of exposure to language in the early years."

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