To make things easier on parents, kids and the iPad itself, Fisher-Price has a line of iPad and iPod protectors. For example, the “Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case,” which comes with an attached rattle, is said to guard against “baby’s dribbles & drool; teething; and unwanted pressing of home button.” There’s also the “iGuy,” a free-standing case made of tantrum-proof foam.
But Steyer has stern advice for adults considering buying toddlers their very own iPads this Christmas: “No. Ridiculous idea.”
Among parents and experts, the idea of giving a toddler an iPad is a fraught subject. There are some obvious drawbacks. For one thing, they’re expensive — as much as $829 for the most recent version. They’re also fragile. But the science on how the iPad affects young children isn’t yet clear, and while some experts see them as developmentally inappropriate, others see some benefits to the technology — and not just in keeping a parent’s sanity (if not guilt) in check.
Too new to know
The iPad has only been around only since 2010, so there hasn’t been enough time to observe its long-term effects on kids, according to Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Rich, who runs the online advice column
Ask the Mediatrician, says that apps on iPads and smartphones are limited as teaching tools since they typically focus on one type of learning — “skills and drills,” which teach children to correctly identify the ABCs or to moo when they see a cow on the screen.
“What’s more important at this age is learning how to learn rather than mimicking something,” Rich says.
Moreover, studies show that kids don’t learn anything substantial, such as language, from screens — television, iPads, computers — until 30 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on any form of screen time until their children are 2.
A 2004 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children exposed to television at ages 1 and 3 had decreased attention spans at age 7. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question, though.
“You can see how a kid who already has difficulty paying attention is put in front of the television to chill him out,” Rich says. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Toddlers also sometimes struggle to translate what they see on two-dimensional screens to the three-dimensional world. (Check out the YouTube video “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work,” in which a 1-year-old seems to get confused as she swipes her finger on a magazine, trying to move the pictures around.)