Sunday, June 3, 2012

The iPad Generation? What’s a Parent to Do?

It was just a few years ago that all parents had to worry about was whether or not their young child was watching too much TV and/or too many DVDs. Now, however, fundamentally different media experiences have been added to the mix. I’m talking about the interactive platforms provided by smart phones (e.g., the iPhone) and tablets (e.g., the iPad). As the photo above of my twin grandchildren, Nathan and Olivia, indicates, the pros and cons of time with these platforms is an issue even in our family.

How prevalent are these items these days? A recent Wall Street Journal article, citing a survey from last year by a non-profit group called Common Sense Media, reported that 39% of 2-to-4-year-olds and 52% of 5-to-8-year-olds have used some form of touch screen platform. Given that the popularity of such devices seems to be growing by the proverbial leaps and bounds, I would bet those percentages are even higher now!

On the plus side, the educational games available as “Apps” are, for the most part, interactive—meaning that they enable even toddlers to make decisions and effect changes by simply touching the screen. This is very different from the primarily passive experiences that TV and DVDs typically provide. And the small amount of research that does exist suggests that well designed games do promote learning.

On the negative side--as anyone who’s tried to wrest an iPad out of the hands of a child can attest to—these devices could be called, as one parent described them to me, “crack for kids.” In other words, kids love themn and don’t want to stop playing with them. The concern is that time spent playing with them is time not spent romping around with other kids, building with legos, nurturing one’s imagination through pretend play, or having conversations with the big people who love them.

So what’s a parent to do? Until we have more research, my best advice is “all things in moderation.” What this means is setting consistent, logical limits by saying “No, enough is enough” and taking the device away. In fact, think of this as an opportunity to get some really helpful practice setting limits—a skill that, trust me, will continue to come in handy until your child leaves home. With short term or long term limits in place that your child can come to understand and anticipate, this will also be a valuable lesson for her as well.

Visit us on Facebook and tell us what you think? What have you tried with your kids that might work for others. This is definitely a discussion worth having!

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Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program


Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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