Think back to a time when there were no mobile phones or tablets, and to make a call, one had to take a few coins to feed into the call box on the corner to have a chat. Those days are long gone – today the mobile phone / tablet is ever present in everyday life, not only acting as a chic and ultra-convenient communication device, but as a calendar, alarm clock, direction-finder, appointment-keeper and search engine for the World Wide Web, as well. It can, therefore, be argued that we cannot live without them or at the very least, they play an important role in the functioning of our daily lives.
However, are they entirely necessary for young children, particularly under the age of 12? While young children certainly do not need mobile phones or tablets for any of the reasons listed above, many people believe that tablets can provide an educational benefit for children through interactive and learning applications, and according to research, this may be true, but only for children of certain ages.
While there have not been many research studies done on the effects that interactive applications have on children under the age of 30 months, it is well-known that infants and toddlers learn best through hands-on and face-to-face experiences. Interactive media, such as learn-to-read applications and electronic books has been found to be useful in teaching vocabulary and reading comprehension in children of preschool-age or older, however, the long-term impact of these devices on the overall development and behavior of children is still relatively unknown.
Using such devices as educational tools can have a positive effect on the mental development of the child, however it is when mobile phones or tablets are used to distract children during mundane tasks or as methods to ‘calm’ children down that may prove to be detrimental to the social-emotional development of the child.
Dr Jenny Radsky, MD, a clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and a former fellow in pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, believes that “increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills.”
“Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction,” she explains.
It is believed that the use of mobile phones or tablets on a daily basis could disrupt the development of empathy, social and problem-solving skills that children typically learn through unstructured play, exploration, and interaction with their peers.
“These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” said Radesky.
The health risks involved with mobile phone usage cannot be nullified either. Surely, the risks pertaining to the health of adults from the use of such devices would pose an even greater risk to children?
In a recent study by Professor Sir William Stewart, the Chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board in the United Kingdom, it was found that ‘children using mobile phones are more prone to cognitive disabilities, non-malignant tumours in the brain and ears, and cancer’. A Dutch study also showed that heavy mobile usage cause distinct changes in overall cognitive function in both children and adults.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, “handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increases the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children” (Common Sense Media, 2013). Both institutions state that:
1. Infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology,
2. Toddlers aged 3-5 years should be restricted to one hour per day, and
3. Children aged 6-18 years must be restricted to 2 hours per day.
With the ever-present role that mobile phones and tablets play in our society today, preventing your child from using such devices might be easier said than done however, there are ways to manage the usage and the types of applications being used.
Experts recommend that parents try each application before allowing their children to access it, as well as encouraging them to use the applications with their children, as this can enhance both the social and educational value of the interaction.
“At this time, there are more questions than answers when it comes to mobile media. Until more is known about its impact on child development quality family time is encouraged, either through unplugged family time, or a designated family hour,” added Radesky.