Do Touch Screen Devices Have An Adverse Effect On Cognitive Development In Toddlers?

May 6 2014, 12:15pm CDT | by

With the widespread use of touch screen devices such as smartphones in our everyday lives, the issue has been raised whether introducing these devices to infants and toddlers at a young age will lead to any early measurable educational benefit, and can they enhance learning or language capability.

Pediatricians from Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, part of the NSLIJ network, evaluated infants and toddlers 0-3 years old provided with touch-screen devices to better understand if there may be any educational benefit. Results of the investigation demonstrated that children who played non-educational games using touch-screen devices actually had lower verbal scores upon testing.

Although there was no statistical difference in developmental scores in children who played educational games versus non-educational games,the majority of parents interviewed for the study felt that their children would derive educational benefits by using smart phones, computer tablets, and e-readers.

“We have observed in our neonatal clinic that the number one ‘toy’ parents are giving their toddlers are smart phones,” described Dr. Ruth Milanaik, lead author of the study and an attending developmental and behavioral physician at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park.  “It was striking to see that parents were substituting books and general baby toys for smart phones.  Many parents did not seem to bring any other distraction for their children except the touch screen devices.”

It turns out that the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy regarding use of electronic media was put together prior to widespread use and adoption of smart phones and tablets and actually recommended against the use of electronic media in toddlers under 2 years of age, warning against possible negative effects on cognitive development, due to  absence of evidence to promote educational growth.

Meanwhile, the new 2013 AAP guideline, while describing positive educational and socially integrative benefits of media use, does not address children 0-3. According to Dr. Milanaik, the effects of touch-screen devices on cognitive development of these young children had never been evaluated.

97 percent, or 63 of 65 families evaluated in this study, owned a touch screen device.  11 months was the average age of a child to begin use of a touch-screen device, based on the study data. The average use was about 36 minutes a day.

According to the study, examples of touch screen device usage included viewing children’s “educational shows” (30 percent), playing educational applications (26 percent),  randomly pressing buttons on a screen (28 percent), and playing non-educational games (14 percent).

While 60 percent of parents described “educational benefits” of their child using a touch screen device, the study overall demonstrated that there was no significant difference in testing scores between children who used touch-screen devices compared with children who did not use these devices.

According to the study, children who played non-educational games (ie. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, etc.) had a lower verbal score on developmental tests. This was reflected in lower receptive & expressive language scores compared to children who engaged in other types of touch screen device games.

Human interaction is vital during early childhood development and helps to create strong emotional and social bonds between parents and children. While technology may help to reinforce concepts and ideas to promote learning, it is important to remember that human interaction is sacred as children grow and develop.

“Technology can never replace a parent’s interaction with their child.  Just talking to your child is the best way to encourage learning,” added Milanaik.

 
 
 

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