The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop putting the finishing touches on an essay for my literature class. As I was making my final edits, a toddler sitting behind me let out a shrill scream. After two minutes of crying because he wanted a cookie, the child suddenly went quiet. I turned around to see how his mother had magically made the tears subside. In his hands was a smart phone.
Over the next few days I noticed the same phenomenon over and over again. It’s as if suddenly the traditional teddy bear has been replaced, and toddlers are now seeking comfort and companionship in their parents’ iPhones. I know that some learning apps can be educational and entertaining, but if the toddlers of today are learning their spatial skills from Angry Birds rather than building blocks, could this be hindering their development?
As technology continues to evolve, younger children have more access to mobile devices, and parents now have to do more than just monitor their child’s television time.
Research from Common Sense Media says that 52 percent of all zero to eight year olds have access to smart phones and other new mobile devices. More shocking is the usage of these devices among the younger side of this grouping: four in 10 two to four year olds use smart phones or tablets.
Handing your child a smart phone to keep them entertained may be an easy solution if they are acting out, but research by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that parents should refrain from doing this, especially with their younger children.
According to a recent statement, children under the age of two should not be engaging in any screen time at all. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says that too much screen time for children at this age can have negative effects for their development.
There are a few pivotal factors in early child development that excessive screen time can inhibit. First, when toddlers spend too much time on screen devices, they do not involve themselves in creative play and constructive problem solving. If they spend too much of their time in a virtual world, they will not understand real world applications of common problems, and will not be able to actively engage their mind to think creatively and come up with solutions to these problems.
Another problem with screen time for toddlers is that it decreases the time that they spend interacting with their parents, which is crucial for their development and education. If children spend all of their time playing games on a smart phone or watching TV, they will not be focusing on activities with their parents, such as reading, talking and hands-on playing.
According to statistics from National TV Turn Off Week, the average child spends only 38.5 minutes per week engaging in meaningful conversation with their parents, but spends 1,680 minutes per week watching television.
For young children, this excessive amount of screen time could have serious developmental implications.
If children develop these habits at an early age, there could be serious negative long-term effects. Studies have shown that excessive media intake in children has led to issues such as anti-social behavior, low self-esteem, as well as obesity due to lack of physical stimulation.
So next time your child is acting irritable in a public place, try not to hand them your smart phone. Instead, bring a toy that will both hold their interest and mentally stimulate them. Pop-up books are a good example of such a toy.
Although technology may be beneficial for many areas of our lives, when it comes to your toddler, stick with off-screen methods of entertaining them.
Common Sense Media
Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood
Jenny is a senior at Wake Forest University from Cohasset, Mass. Jenny is an English major, and loves to write, whether it is a Shakespeare paper or an article for her school newspaper. She is hoping to enter the bustling world of public relations after graduating in May 2014. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at the local barre studio or trying but failing to quietly sing an Italian aria.