We all see an increasing number of tablets and smart phones being used by pre-school children but is this really a good thing?
There seems to be instinctive concern amongst parents that tablet use by children could somehow be damaging. But does this have a foundation or are parents naturally wary of a toy that seems to engage their child so well and that we did not have as children ourselves?
There is absolutely no doubt that the right apps can help children to develop. We are constantly testing apps with children as part of our review process for the Good App Guide and so see first hand how children learn so effortlessly from them. It’s such an intuitive engaging platform that they often don’t even realise they are learning and developing. We’ve witnessed pre-school children learning letter recognition, phonics, basic words, improving dexterity, pattern recognition, creative skills and even learning to recognise emotions (to name but a few) all through apps.
So what are the down sides?
- Excessive screen time: Like TVs, tablets count as screen-time. Excessive amounts of TV-based screen-time certainly have proven damaging consequences such as impaired social development, delayed language, and health issues relating to inactivity. However, compared to TV viewing, using a tablet is much more interactive and the right apps can even get children physically active.
- Excessive close work: Tablet use also involves close-working similar to computer use and reading. Excessive close-work can certainly have an impact on eyesight and posture.
The message from Fundamentally Children is that the key is striking the right balance. All the down sides relate to excessive usage, just like with giving your child a balanced diet, we believe it’s important to give children a balanced play diet. Tablet usage and TV viewing can be part of this diet but just like sugary or salty food the amount needs to be managed and certainly out-weighed by time spent in active play and interacting with
Whilst all children vary, typical concentration spans of a child are about 5 minutes per year of their life, so 15 minutes for a 3 year old. This is a reasonable rule of thumb for how long to allow your children to spend on a tablet at a sitting, after this any developmental benefit is likely to diminish. We certainly would recommend for a pre-schooler that they do not have more than an hour’s total screen time per day.
We certainly would not actively encourage any parent to hand over their tablet or go out and buy one for their pre-schooler, there are many personal factors involved with deciding if and when is the right time for your child to have access to this technology. However, we don’t think parents who do give their kids time on a tablet should feel guilty so long as they are not used to excess. We believe that, in addition to the potential developmental benefits of choosing the right apps, it is important that children grow up familiar with technology as it will inevitably play a big role in their lives. Learning to self-manage screen-time when they are young will also stand them in good steed for the future. Although, see our article on getting children ‘off’ a tablet, if you are struggling with this.
Tablets have not been around for very long so long-term research on the subject is limited. At Fundamentally Children, we continue to track global research (such as the research at the Swinburne BabyLab, in Melbourne, Australia). We will continue to report any new evidence that emerges on the dangers or benefits of tablet usage