Educational tool or expensive nuisance? Should kids have their own tablet? There are pros and cons to these mesmerizing devices that kids seem to love.
My 7-year-old has been asking Santa for an iPad for the past two years. I’ve been thinking long and hard about it. My first instinct is to say no, but I know there are some great benefits.
Call me old-fashioned. I believe that kids should play board games and run outside rather than sit in front of a small, mesmerizing screen. I know there are educational apps and a lot of schools use iPads and tablets as teaching tools. I’m not against those uses. I’ve seen how a simple YouTube phonics song helped teach my youngest the alphabet when nothing else was working. I’ve seen how engaged both of my kids are when they’re learning simple math on an app.
But I don’t believe I need to spend $400 on something fragile for an elementary school-aged child. If I had asked my parents to spend $100 back in the 1970s, they would have laughed in my face. That was a lot of money back then, and $400 is a lot now.
Those are my personal beliefs, but are there are some psychological cons of giving a tablet to a young child?
“We really don’t yet know all of the effects of this type of technology on kids, especially younger children,” said Bryan Carter, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at Norton Children’s Hospital and U of L Physicians. “Children, even as young as 18 months, seem to be naturally drawn to the visual stimuli and intuitive responsiveness of iPods, tablets, etc. But that does not mean these devices are inherently good for them. What we do know is that interacting with other people is crucial for social development. And social intelligence is one of the best predictors we have for success and adjustment in later life. Replace that with extensive and unsupervised time in front of a television, tablet or computer and you may have problems.”
Add into that the risk of a child sitting still and staring at a screen for hours, and you develop patterns of inactivity and passivity that can lead to such problems as obesity down the road. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids age 2 and older spend less than two hours a day in front of a TV, computer or video game. Children under 2 should not have any screen time.
What about creating a false depiction of reality? When everything instantly comes with a click or a swipe, what are we teaching kids?
“Kids need to learn patience, delay of gratification, self-soothing and self-control, and that doesn’t happen spending hours interacting with a video screen that thrives on almost constant instant gratification,” Dr. Carter said. “These devices do not correctly depict reality. The sooner you start teaching a child that, the better.”
So will there be a tablet under my Christmas tree this year? Probably. I think there are enough benefits. But it’s for the whole family to use. I’ll limit my kids’ time on it to educational apps and websites, and it won’t be used every day.