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What Consumer Reports said about a kids’ tablet that it didn’t mean

(Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The August edition of the valuable Consumer Reports magazine includes a piece titled “Back-to-school bests: Our top picks for tablets and laptops — for all ages.”

The piece starts by noting that students today “need a lot more than pencils and notebooks” and then provides short write-ups of five different tablets:

*For kindergarten — Samsung Galaxy Tab Kids
*For elementary school — Acer C720-2848 Chromebook
*For middle/high school –Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14
*For a  graphic design major in college: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display and 128GB
*For a double major in college: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Core i5 processor and 128GB

It notes that the recommended tablet for elementary school is being used by some schools to give Common Core standardized tests, “which is a powerful argument for getting your kid started on the platform at home as well.” Parents shouldn’t have to buy expensive technology to help prepare their kids to take Common Core tests, but never mind.

It is the wording in the kindergarten blurb that suggests something that the Consumer Reports writers say they didn’t mean. The blurb says that the tablet allows parents to approve content and “set playtime limits,” but then it says: “Battery life is an impressive 9.3 hours, so kids can learn and play almost all day.”

Actually, no child should be on a screen almost all day — not for playing or for learning — and certainly not a kindergartner. The American Academy of Pediatrics last year issued recommendations that included not allowing children younger than 2 to have any media use and limiting children’s screen time to no more than two hours a day.

I asked Consumer Reports about the item, and this was the response, from electronics editor Glenn Derene:

“The sentence was to reference the battery life of the tablet, and was not meant to endorse the concept of a child staring at a screen all day. We were commenting on the performance capability of the device, and did not mean to suggest that a child should use it continuously for 9.3 hours.”

The magazine did, as noted before, mention that parents can set “playtime limits,” but the casual wording about a kindergartner being able to use a tablet “almost all day” because of a long battery life suggests that such behavior is acceptable.

There are known consequences for children who spend too much time in front of a screen — which the renowned Mayo Clinic says include irregular sleep and behavioral problems — but it is also true that we don’t yet know the extent of the impact. This New York Times blog post in 2013 said:

“We really don’t know the full neurological effects of these technologies yet,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the Longevity Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.” “Children, like adults, vary quite a lot, and some are more sensitive than others to an abundance of screen time.”
But Dr. Small says we do know that the brain is highly sensitive to stimuli, like iPads and smartphone screens, and if people spend too much time with one technology, and less time interacting with people like parents at the dinner table, that could hinder the development of certain communications skills.