Technology in our world today is leaving many adults floundering. The myriad of devices with new applications arriving daily has those of us who are of the baby boom generation shaking our heads with frustration and confusion. Not so with children. I recently witnessed a two year old swiping the screen of an old flip phone repeatedly trying to “make it work” like an iPhone or tablet. They take to these new devices like ducks to water which leads to some important questions. Are these “tablets” a good thing for our children? And how much of a “good thing” is too much.
Today’s tablet computers are designed to be so easy to use that even a child of 2 or 3 can master its functions. Swiping has taken the place of typing and reading for many applications. Children can easily learn to stream movies and play simple games. And they seem endlessly fascinated. So naturally it is convenient for busy parents to rely on a tablet to amuse their child while traveling or busy in the home. And parents feel less guilty if they think there is educational value in using a tablet.
In the past, the television served a similar role. I recall many years ago sitting my preschool children down in front of the television on Saturday morning to watch Sesame Street with a box of saltines while we went about our chores. The program was promoted as educational which helped justify our casual parenting. No doubt there was some learning going on but research cautioned parents to limit the amount of viewing time. Tablets have us entering a new, rapidly changing world. The flexibility, power and compactness of the iPhones and tablets make them far more ubiquitous. And the variety of applications appears to be endless.
Some researchers believe that there is no educational or developmental value to toddlers. Far more important to brain development is one to one interaction with parents or the manipulation of non-electronic interactive toys. Dr. Rahill Briggs from Montefiore Medical Center in New York believes that tablet usage should be limited. He believes too much use can slow language development. For older children he believes excessive usage will slow social development.
Others contend that children need to be comfortable with modern devices before they enter school because this technology will be an essential part of the school day. Children unfamiliar with this technology will be left at an early disadvantage.
Because these devices are so new (the tablet and iPads were introduced only four years ago), research on their impact is sketchy. As well, technology is moving so quickly that any research conducted today will not be applicable in a few short years. We marvelled at the flip phone 10 years ago. We never could have imagined the iPad technology would be in our pockets so quickly.
So what do we do? It is probably best that we fall back on a few tried and true precepts that have stood the test of time. Use all things with moderation. Avoid excess. Keep a watchful eye on our children and actively supervise. Keep balance in their lives, providing intellectual stimulation with physical activity. Above all, use common sense. It is an exciting world opening for us all. We should use this new technology wisely.