It wasn’t long before 2-year-old Kyle got his hands on his father’s iPad. He worked with it with an immediate – almost savant-like – fluency. His parents were amazed. “Within 10 minutes, he was mastering it,” dad Fang Chang told the Christian Science Monitor. “He knew how to use the home button, how to open apps. It was amazing to us how quickly he was able to use.”
The boy is part of the first generation to use handheld digital technology from birth and have come to be known as the “App “Generation.” According to a Nielsen Study, more than 70 percent of children under 12 use tablets. An additional survey by Common Sense Media, reported by the Christian Science Monitor, discovered that nearly 40 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 4 often found some mobile device in their hands.
What, if any, repercussions arise from this use? Numerous studies have pointed to the possible side effects of too much television or video games for some children. But is it the same for mobile phones?
Researchers with the Boston University School of Medicine have now weighed in on those questions in a new set of recommendations published on Friday in the journal Pediatrics. “Mobile devices are everywhere and children are using them more frequently at young ages,” Jenny Radesky, a clinical instructor at Boston University’s Developmental-Behavior Pediatrics, said in a statement. “The impact these mobile devices are having on the development and behavior of children is still relatively unknown.”
Nevertheless, the researchers have arrived a series of unsettling conclusions. They said children younger than 30 months “cannot learn from television and videos as they do from real-life interactions.” And to use a mobile device before that age on tasks that aren’t educational can be “detrimental to the social-emotional development of the child.”
Of particular concern, according to the recommendations, was how such technology could “interfere” with a child’s growing sense of empathy or problem-solving skills. Kids acquire that capacity by playing and interacting with peers and exploring their immediate surroundings. “If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?” the article asked.
It’s not all bad, however. If an iPad is used for educational purposes — like vocabulary acquisition or to read electronic books — they can help in the education of a child. But when it’s turned to mindless material, which the researchers call “mundane,” it may be harmful for kids. “It has been well-studied that increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills,” Radesky said. “Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction.”
The article expands on Radesky’s study of how mobile technology is affecting parenting. In March of last year, she published another article in Pediatrics that studied 40 caregivers who were interacting with their children while using a mobile device. Those who were “highly absorbed” in their iPads or phones “often responded harshly to child behavior.” Meanwhile, the children switched between entertaining themselves and staging “escalating bids” to win their parent’s attention.
If the roles are reversed — and the child has the device — the result could be just as damaging, Raesky said. “These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensory-motor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science.”