Many babies and toddlers absolutely love playing with touch-screen technology—and it’s no wonder! The touch screen provides instant gratification with its cool images, movements, and sounds appealing to their senses. Understandably, many parents are thrilled with this interactive technology because, mostly through media ads, they’ve heard that babies can learn letters, numbers, words, and concepts. However, to date there is no research studying a connection between tablets or smartphones and infant learning.
Whether traveling in the car or waiting in the pediatrician’s office, it’s not uncommon for parents to hand over a smartphone, laptop, or tablet to their toddler. To parents, these devices act much like a babysitter, and with hundreds of apps available for young children, they’re increasingly appealing to little ones. Are there potential benefits or harms to babies being exposed to these interactive screens? Again, proper research hasn’t been completed, so there’s no scientific proof yet.
For older children, the interactive element allows them to learn concepts such as cause and effect and sequencing, but for babies still experiencing critical brain development, long-term effects remain unknown.
Where We Stand
When it comes to screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made a clear stance: The AAP advises eliminating screen time for children younger than 2 years completely, linking it to language learning delays. It’s important to note that just like TVs, videos, and computers, tablets and cell phones have screens too.
What We Know
Numerous studies have shown that children learn better from real-life experiences than screen time, especially activities that involve moving and doing. Unfortunately, when the use of tablets, smartphones, and computers is added to TV time, it has been estimated that the average 12-month-old is exposed to up to 2 hours of screen time a day.
Value of Active Play
Although it might sound cool for a baby to learn the concepts of “up” and “down” or “stop” and “go” using technology, you can’t replace the actual experience of your child physically engaging the world through play. Active exploration develops eye-hand coordination, visual perception, and fine motor skills, each of which can’t be addressed in the same way on a 2-dimensional screen. It is critical for babies to learn new concepts while interacting with actual people and objects. Building, climbing, pretending, banging, stacking, and manipulating are all 3-D sensory-motor experiences that can’t be replicated on a screen.