How Tablets and Smartphones Can Benefit Toddlers

New research suggests that learning from screens can help young children

By Stacey Ross

New media technology is here to stay and has become part of the fabric of our everyday existence. But as with anything else shiny and new, we need to weigh the benefits with the risks, particularly when it comes to our little ones. Sure, let’s have them engage with tablets and smartphones, but when we are conscious of the extent and pace that we introduce gadgets into their worlds, we can encourage age-appropriate opportunities that involve the whole family.

It’s not news that the American Academy of Pediatrics warns us that screen time for children under the age of 2 is not advised. Research suggests that it delays language development and can disrupt sleep. Likewise, when used as a form of consistent and long-term babysitting, it also adversely impacts the cognitive and social skills that are essential to normal development.

Interactive games foster creativity

Good news, though: Researchers discovered that while excessive TV watching slightly increased a child’s risk for conduct problems, age-appropriate digital games did not! A 2013 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that certain digital games seem to affect children differently than TV. Take a guess why!

Games that are interactive foster creativity and participation, while TV typically does not invite consistent interaction, nor customize feedback for each user. Studies show that the more parents speak to their kids and the more extensive their vocabulary, the better the kids perform intellectually and academically. Routinely engaging directly with our children is crucial for them to hit developmental milestones.

Promise of interactive media

Heather Kirkorian, an academic at the University of Wisconsin, reports that while research indicates non-interactive video isn’t educationally valuable for kids under 3, that “some studies suggest that toddlers learn from screens when they are interactive,” and that toddlers “are more likely to demonstrate learning from video when interacting with a contingently responsive social partner on screen.”

Kirkorian discovered that children aged 2 to 3 were more likely to react to screens that prompted for interaction than screens that didn’t. She also found that interaction was key when dealing with word learning: “Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster,” adding, “but we’re not turning them into geniuses, just helping them get a little more information.”

Promote balance

The goal for parents is to promote balanced exposure. Our devices should not be replacing outdoor fun, painting and other social interactive activities, but can be used as supplements that add value and engaging stimulation.

Young ones thrive when they have parents monitor and stay involved with their kids’ activities. For example, when parents practice “co-viewing” TV shows or interactive games, they can help increase their children’s comprehension skills. Cognitive, social and language skills are crucial for the development of healthy children!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.


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