Toddlers & Tech: Are All Screens Created Equal?


Touchscreens Should Change Rule, Child Tech Expert Says

In a recent New York Times article on the topic, Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, another AAP pediatrician, said the academy continually evaluates guidelines to accommodate new media, but hasn't altered its policy yet.

"We always try to throw in the latest technology, but the cellphone industry is becoming so complex that we always come back to the table and wonder should we have a specific guideline for cellphones," she said. But, she added, "At the moment, we seem to feel it's the same as TV."

But, Warren Buckleitner, editor of the Children's Technology Review and one of several advisors to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said it's time for a change.

"I think touchscreen has brought new rules into the playroom," he said. "Just because this is glass and pixels does not mean it's somehow damaging. What I find frustrating is when people lump all of this into one category called 'screens.'"

Well-Designed Applications Put Kids in Driver's Seat

Video games and computer activities require mouses, keyboards and other layers, he said. But touchscreen technology removes those barriers and opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

If a child as young as 1-year-old responds to it, he said, there's no reason to stop a child from playing with an age-appropriate, well-designed smartphone application.

Touchscreens, which are developmentally appropriate for sensory-motor learners, can let kids simulate everything from cooking to popping bubblewrap to finger painting, he said.

"Would you take finger painting away from children? Well, only when it's getting paint over the living room rug," he said. "You can hand your child this very powerful experience."

The technology may be too young to show educational benefits backed by research, but he said parent experiences and expert reviews show that well-designed applications -- those that put children in control -- can engage kids and encourage learning.

He said that while critics may have a point in supporting real, concrete experiences over virtual ones, they can't count out all touchscreen applications.

"The key word here is empowerment. You want to empower a young child and here's a new tool that has come along," he said. "You can put the child in the driver's seat of a powerful thing. That's the payoff of technology."

Parent: Why Should Creative Play Be Limited on Screens?

Christopher Taylor, a Minnesota-based father of two, quickly learned that his iPhone could occupy his 1.5-year-old and 3-year-old toddlers. But instead of letting the technology turn his kids into "vidiots," he turned it into an opportunity for education.

He teamed up with a friend, Victor Johnson (who also happens to be a father), and started developing and selling in Apple's App store age-appropriate, educational smartphone applications that help kids learn shapes, learn to count and more.

"My basic take is, like anything, it's a tool that can be used well or poorly, and it's important to figure out how it fits into the context of raising a child," he said. "Part of the magic is that the devices truly engage kids and this interest opens a window for learning."

Given the potential they hold -- for joint learning with parents and play -- he said the artificial "screen time" limits don't make sense.

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