'Four-year-old addicted to iPad'
‘Preschoolers treated on digital detox diets’
'Shocking rise in children hooked on using smartphones and tablets'
— read the headlines of articles featuring in newspapers around the world during April following reports of a British preschooler spending up to four hours a day on her iPad.
Should we be concerned about device-use or how we let children use the device?
Should we be concerned? And if so, do these concerns arise from the iPad or the way adults allow children to use the device?
Certainly, if tablets are only being used as ‘iBabysitter’ devices, where children watch videos and e-books are ‘read’ aloud, then referral to ‘screen-time’ research is relevant. We need, however, to move past the notion of ‘screen-time’ when these devices are used in ways that encourage interaction and creativity, as this level of interaction demands more of the user than just watching the screen.
Research shows the benefits of tablets
Modern mobile devices, such as iPads and tablets, have been around for just over three years, so research around their use in early childhood education has been relatively limited. Early research is showing that when used well, and in moderation, there are benefits to iPads as a tool for learning, even with young children. Quality open-ended applications afford young children early learning opportunities when they engage, interact, and create in new ways on these devices, particularly when offered as part of a well-balanced environment.
In 2010, UNESCO reported that new technologies (such as tablets) are important in supporting the creativity of young children. In part, this is because technology is changing the way we operate as a society. We see this change reflected in young children’s play. How often do you see young children playing with a phone and putting it up to their ear to speak? Instead, children generally press the buttons to ‘text’, imitating the actions of the adults they see around them. This is an important point: if we want children to be technologically healthy we need to think about their exposure to these tools.
How children use these devices starts with us
This exposure starts with us:
- How do we interact with our technology?
- What messages are we sending to children through the way we interact with these devices?
- How often do we sit and text others instead of engaging with those in the same room?
- Do we model healthy use of technology?
Further exposure occurs in the range of mobile devices and accessories that are marketed to parents of young children that suggest that these are ‘must-have’ items for early learning. An example of just how extreme some of this marketing is can be seen in the ’i-Potty’ – a toilet training potty that incorporates an iPad stand. This device might suit some, but I would question just how much valued learning would come from the iPad in this situation.
Balance—like anything in life—is essential to being healthy.
For young children (and even older ones), four hours a day is a significant chunk of time to be spent on any one tool or activity—particularly if there is little interaction. It is up to us to ensure our young children are healthy and have a range of experiences.
it is up to us to ensure that young children are healthy and have a range of experiences.