Many parents worry about their children spending too much time in front of the screen and kids’ experts say there should be some limits, indeed. But there are also lots of educational and therapeutic uses of tablets and smartphones that little children can benefit from. So does technology hold back toddlers’ learning process, or does it help?
It has become usual to see toddlers confidently pressing buttons and swiping screens on tablets, smartphones and laptops. Sometimes we even wonder how they manage to understand, especially without being thought to, compared to us, the grown-ups who often need weeks to get used to our new phone, for instance. Many experts call today’s children “the technology generation”, and with a good reason. Don’t be surprised if your 4-year-old son learns how to download and play a game or an app faster than it would take him to learn how to pronounce its title. The truth is, parents shouldn’t be alarmed about the harm screens do to their children if there is a certain limit for their use. In fact, it turns out screens may be beneficial to learning.
Interactive technology, and touch screens in particular, may have a great educational benefit for toddlers. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin discovered that two- and three-year-olds are more likely to respond to interesting, touch video screens than to screens demanding no interaction. Children at this age feel interactive screens more real and more familiar and are able to focus their attention for a long time. The scientists also tried to find a connection between touch screens and word learning and the results were astonishing. Children who were learning via smart technology and touch screens showed far greater progress, with fewer mistakes and faster learning.
Another case for the benefit of technology was presented by the Australian doctor Hayley Simmonds which specializes in early intervention of speech and language difficulties in young children. As part of her therapy, she uses iPads and a variety of apps targeting speech articulation, language and early literacy skills. The three-year-old kids she is helping show improvement after practicing with different apps. Some apps such as KidFunKit the Story and iCommunicate help increase focus and motivation, and develop fine speech motor skills. Other apps recording parent’s voice can be particularly useful in treating autistic children and children who need more support with speech.
Of course, all experts agree on strictly supervised use of smartphones and tablets. Even toddlers quickly learn to navigate around apps and can easily run into unsuitable information. Another, and even greater risk for little children, is being in front of the screen for more than an hour or two a day. Doctors believe that the easily accessible electronic gadgets prevent younger kids from developing their own inner, fantasy world which is crucial for having not only imagination, but for the capability to think creatively and independently in older age. Moreover, children having an automatic access to technology won’t learn to tolerate the “boring” part of life – being alone with your own thoughts. So, when unsupervised, technology can in fact hold back children’s creativeness and ability to think independently. And these are inseparable phases of learning and knowing the world and yourself.
Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman warns that today’s children spend more time with screen media than ever. Children born today, according to his calculations, will have spent a year in front of screens by the age of 7. The key should be deciding the best apps and software for each child and limiting its use to hour or two a day. Generally, the parents’ attitude towards technology at home to a large extent influences children’s relationship with it. That’s why experts say parents should not only control their kids but also set personal example.