Toddlers are naturally attracted to novelty. They love colors and shiny, moving pictures. An iPad is the holy grail of novelty, and when your toddler realizes that they can make it light up, make sounds, vibrate or change colors with a simple touch, they will be instantly hooked. They can’t help it. On the other hand, when you realize that you can buy yourself a few hours by letting them play on your iPad, hours of solitude that you haven’t had in months, who can blame you for jumping on the opportunity? You finally have a way to keep them occupied during long car rides and waits at the doctor’s office!
But where do you draw the line? As great as the technology may be, is it actually good for your toddler? Is it irresponsible of you to get your toddler an iPad? If you have been worrying about these questions, you need to worry no more. I’ve got all the answers here to help you make a decision that is right for you and yours.
TODDLERS AND iPADS: SHOULD YOU GET ONE FOR THEM?
What the Experts Say
There are guidelines that exist for screen time, but these are mostly based on research that has been done for television screens. Therefore, many parents mistakenly believe that these guidelines do not also apply to iPads and other handheld devices.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 18 months should have zero screen time. According to their research, it’s not what screens do to babies, it’s what screens prevent them from doing. Their research shows that screens slow down the development of very young children by reducing the amount of time spent engaging in activities that are cognitively stimulating.
In 2017, researchers from the University of Toronto reaffirmed this guideline, with one of their studies coming to the conclusion that excessive use of iPads before the age of two stunts speech development.
However, there are no conclusive studies on the long term effects of iPads for toddlers. Although there are several ongoing studies on this subject, we still do not really know whether iPads are good or bad for toddlers in the long term. Why is this, you ask? Well, although it may not seem like it now, the iPad is a relatively new invention. It was only introduced in 2010, and these studies usually take way longer than that to yield conclusive answers.
So, does the fact that there is no evidence on this issue mean that the iPad is good for your toddler? Does this mean you can get them their own iPad and finally enjoy some peace and quiet? Well, first of all, let’s not jump the gun here. Let’s take a critical look at this from a point of what we do know and try to discern the answers from that.
We know that iPads are bad for babies, at least in the short term. We also know that too much of anything is bad for you, so too much screen time for toddlers is obviously a bad thing. We also know what the recommended amounts of screen time are: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children from 0 to 18 months should have zero contact with digital media. From 18 months to 2 years, only allow them to watch a limited amount of digital media with you. Toddlers aged 2 to 5 years should only enjoy a maximum of 1 hour of screen time a day.
Therefore, there are clearly set recommendations and guidelines for what you should ideally do. However, we do not live in a perfect world, and these recommended numbers are often impossible to implement. For instance, according to a 2017 study by Common Sense Media, about 80% of children have access to tablets. This study also found that two-thirds of parents have downloaded apps specifically for their kids.
So does this mean that it is too late? Not exactly. There are a few other studies that say iPads may actually be good for your toddler if used in moderation. For example, a Joan Ganz Cooney Center sponsored research found that certain apps may help improve a child’s vocabulary and math skills. Here are a few other proven benefits of iPads for kids:
Benefits of iPads
- An iPad is a small engaging toy that can be carried and used on the go. This makes them great emergency distraction tools. (Travel Tips for Toddlers)
- Some studies indicate that they may have real educational benefits for young children, especially when it comes to vocabulary and math skills.
- Age appropriate games have been shown not to cause attention problems in children like TV does. The more interactive and creative the game is the better.
- It can be turned into a learning tool when used in the right way. Use an iPad with your toddler to help them get the most out of it. Let them ask you questions, and stimulate their engagement by communicating with them. This way, the iPad becomes a beneficial learning tool for your toddler.
- The size and shape of iPads are ideal for their little fingers.
- The use of iPads lets them get familiar with the latest technology.
- iPads are just plain fun for kids.
On the other hand, here are a few cons of iPads especially when it comes to getting them for toddlers:
Cons of using iPads for Toddlers
- iPads are expensive toys for toddlers. Your little ones can burn a huge hole in your pocket when they throw them around and break them.
- iPads can be addictive. Even adults get addicted to them.
- The iPad screen offers very limited sensory environment and physical interaction. Playing with other toys like stuffed animals or blocks and experiencing physical play are by far richer and provide more opportunities for your toddler to learn and develop essential skills for forming human relationships.
- Do not give toddlers independent access to digital media. This can interfere with their sleeping patterns. You should also monitor what they watch and the apps they use.
- When using an iPad becomes a habit, it can be hard to break. For example, if your child knows that every time they are in the car they will be using the iPad, they end up being attached and having a tough time doing anything else in the car. So, avoid making it part of a routine.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? Well, while you do not need to feel guilty about letting your toddler use an iPad in moderation, you need to make sure that it is just one among the many activities she enjoys every day. Set a few ground rules for iPad use and they can become useful developmental tools. Also, instead of getting them their own and letting them control their own screen time, consider letting them share yours and limit their screen time yourself.