Today’s children are exposed to technology and media at a very early age as phones, computers, and iPads are often within children’s reach in the home. Toy companies have caught onto the trend as technology toys flood the toy store aisles. With the current technology saturated environment, parents may wonder whether technology is good or bad. Recent studies have looked at just that, but the answer is not quite straightforward.
Tech Toys for Babies
The American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) recommends no screen time for infants 18 months and younger as children at this age cannot learn from media as they do from interactions with caregivers. According to a recent study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics study, tech toys can slow an infant’s language development. In the study, the researchers examined the association between the type of toy used during children’s play with the interaction between the parent and infants, ranging from 10 to 16 months. The study compared electronic toys such as a baby laptop, and traditional toys such as wooden puzzles, shape-sorters, and blocks. The researchers discovered the children vocalized less during play with electronic toys than when children played with simple books or toys. Based on these findings, the study discourages purchasing electronic toys that are promoted as educational.
Tech for Preschool Kids
Not all the research is bad. The AAP recently lifted its longstanding recommendation to avoid screen time for children under 2 years of age. Now, the AAP suggests some media can have educational value for children starting around 18 months of age. Toddlers, unlike younger children, are able to learn from media when they use media with parents and the parents reteach the content. “Well-designed” television programs, such as Sesame Street, can improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children 3 to 5 years old. Furthermore, some apps from Sesame Workshop and and the Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) have helped teach literacy skills to preschoolers. One study found that children as young as two have the ability to interact purposefully with touch-screen devices. Other research has shown educational apps for kids can be a valuable and engaging learning tool for toddlers.
Books have long been considered the quintessential learning tool. However, books, too, have been hit with innovation and have transformed. “E-picture books” for children are books that can be read on a screen incorporating text and pictures. How does this new technology impact children’s learning and development? Research shows that children learn from both print and digital picture books. Digital storybooks that pair spoken words with pictures and print text enhance vocabulary. Parents should continue to interact with children when reading an E-picture book just the same as a traditional book. How should a parent make an informed choice between traditional books and digital? Perhaps it is not necessary. Digital books can provide experiences for children that traditional books are unable to do. Both traditional and digital books can play a role in childhood education and literacy.
Consequences for Overuse
Moderation is key as too much media has been associated with negative consequences. Too much media exposure in the bedroom in early childhood has been linked with less sleep at night. This is true even of infants exposed to media during the evening. Excessive media use during preschool is associated with increases in BMI, setting a precedent for weight gain later in childhood. For concerned parents worried about media overuse, the AAP recommends parents create a personalized family media plan to ensure the child’s health, education, and entertainment needs are met.
The educational benefits depend on the child’s age and type of media. If you are troubled by the results, skip the tech toys and aim for traditional toys that will facilitate a better quality interaction with your baby. For older children, educational technology has created new opportunities for learning. Choose quality toys and media to offer your child and continue to interact with your child.