These days, when you look at kids sitting on the subway or cross town bus, they're not hooked on crossword puzzles and word searches. They're heads down in their tablets, sometimes sharing with a sibling, other times playfully fighting over one. The truth is, tablets are becoming increasingly abundant in most children's lives.
Common Sense Media's recent study on "screen-time" found that 38 percent of toddlers and infants under the age of two have used a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone, as compared to 10 percent in 2011. The study also found that the average amount of time children spend using mobile devices has tripled, from five minutes per day to 15 minutes per day for the zero-to-eight age group, and the number of kids who have used mobile devices has nearly doubled from 38 to 72 percent. This increase in usage raises the question if screen-time is a good thing for kids.
Why this doesn't have to be negative
Parents and educators are often inundated with information that cautions them against allowing their children more than a certain amount of screen-time, suggesting that it fosters anti-social behavior and impacts their ability to learn. Yet studies have found that it depends on the type of content, not the device usage itself, that truly matters.
As children learn and develop, psychosocial adjustment is important to watch. According to a study from the Archives of Disease in Childhood, watching TV for three or more hours at five years old predicted a 0.13 point increase (95% CI 0.03 to 0.24) in conduct problems by 7 years, compared with watching for under an hour, but playing electronic games was not associated with conduct problems. Television, not electronic games, predicted a small increase in conduct problems and screen-time did not predict other aspects of psychosocial adjustment.
Factors that may impact screen-time's influence on a child include material not designed for children, or is less adult supervision. However, these screens can help, not hinder, ongoing education for children and their families, if used appropriately.
Use your devices as tools
Electronic devices are not the enemy. Utilize the devices your children already love to help your children learn, and make it an experience that involves the entire family. Take advantage of quality family time, especially when waiting in airports or stuck in traffic around the holidays. Screen-time doesn't have to be to be anti-social - it can be interactive. Establish the conversation with your kids and reinforce a social, educational activity.
Don't forget to talk to your children
If your children are playing on a tablet or phone, ask them what they are working on. Talk to them about what they learned and even offer to play with them! Let them win a level, and watch them smile with pride as their confidence, happiness, and educational abilities increase.