Kids Need Laps, Not Apps, say Experts

Our kids are officially members of the Tech Generation. Thanks, obviously, to brilliant minds and incredible inventions.

Kids Need Laps, Not Apps, say Experts

And mums and dads’ benevolence, too – but not necessarily in a good way.

A recent US survey found that three-quarters of children assessed had been given tablets, smartphones or iPods of their own by age 4 and had used the devices without supervision. According to experts, however, it’s not the tech time itself that’s the biggest issue.

The survey was based on the self-reported data collected from 350 parents, who filled out a questionnaire while visiting Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia.

One-third of the parents of 3- and 4-year-olds said their children engaged in multi-screen usage – playing on more than one device at the same time, noted Dr. Hilda Kabali, a paediatrician and lead author of the survey.

Seventy percent of the parents reported allowing their children, from the staggeringly young age of 6 months, to 4 years old, to play with mobile devices while they caught up with housework, and 65 percent said they had done so to placate a child in public.

A quarter of the parents said they left children with devices at bedtime, although bright screens are proven to disrupt sleep.

According to the parents, nearly half of the children younger than 1 used a mobile device daily to play games, watch videos or use apps. Most 2-year-olds used a tablet or smartphone daily.

The Philadelphian survey might only be a small sample of a far larger national – and global – demographic, yet the results are replicated across numerous other studies. A nationwide survey by Common Sense Media, revealed that 72 percent of children 8 or younger used a mobile device in 2013, for example, compared with 38 percent in 2011.

Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Centre on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, said he suspected that exposure to mobile devices among children elsewhere “is not all that different” from what was described by the parents in Philadelphia.

“Based on my observations of families with whom I work, I would not be surprised if these levels of device ownership and use were similar in many families,” he said.

Of course, interactive appscan teach children. A recent study published in the journal Science found that first graders who used an app called Bedtime Math (with a parent) improved their math skills within months.

Parents in the new survey, however, reported that their children sometimes used the devices to watch unenriching fodder; videos and other passive entertainment.

The real problem? It’s the lack of parental supervision that’s more detrimental than the use of mobile devices by the very young, experts assert.

Though, motivation behind such research projects is not to point the finger of blame; it’s about coming up with adaptive strategies to unplug from insentient technology and reconnect with our loved ones.

If you’re struggling to get things done at home, employ a helper – whether to spend one-on-one time with the kids for a couple hours, or to lend a hand with the errands and chores racking up. If money is a sticking point, ask a friend or family member.

Encourage other forms of play and activities that don’t include a screen, and prioritise time to be fully present with your child – that means putting aside your own devices for a while. Children develop behaviours from watching us, so if we want them to grow into fulfilled, empathic individuals who know how look up from the screen and extract joy from the world around them, and learn from, listen to, and actively demonstrate love towards others, it’s up to us to show them how.

Not the ipad.

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical and consulting psychologist, who interviewed 1,000 children, along with many parents, teachers and young adults, about the role of screens in children’s lives in researching her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, suggests eight times of day when mums, dads, and carers might pay special attention (i.e. sans the smartphone), from driving time and school pick-up to bed and bath.

In the Philadelphia sample, “a lot of media time is reportedly alone,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington. “It can’t be overstated: Children need laps more than apps.”