What to Consider Before Handing Your Child a Tablet
Media consumption for kids has become quite a polarizing topic in the parenting world in recent years. Whether you are for it, against it, somewhere in between or just exploring the options, here are some things to consider before handing your child a tablet.
The Latest Official Stance on Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is the leading authority offering recommendations on media consumption based on what is found to be developmentally appropriate for young children. While the AAP had previously discouraged parents from exposing their children to any screen time, they have recently updated their official stance on the matter to be more open to the possible benefits of exposure to high-quality educational programming.
The latest AAP guidelines, published in the November 2016 issue of Pediatrics, stress that for babies and toddlers, open-ended, technology-free playtime should be prioritized above all else. For school-aged kids, balancing screen time with other healthy play outlets is crucial. One notable distinction made in this latest report is that video chatting, whether via FaceTime on an Apple iPad mini 4 or other Apple device or using another video chat service like Skype, is viewed differently from all other screen time usage and is deemed appropriate for children of all ages.
The specific recommendations by age break down as follows:
- Younger than 18 months old: With the exception of video chatting, screen-based media consumption should be completely avoided.
- 18 to 24 months old: If desired, this is an acceptable age to introduce high-quality programming. Exposure should be minimal (less than an hour a day) and parents should watch with their toddler, offering explanations and interaction to help the child understand what is being presented.
- 2 to 5 years old: Limit screen time to one hour of high-quality programming per day. Co-viewing with a parent is also recommended to help provide context for the learning material presented.
- 6 years old and older: Screen time limits are at parents’ discretion. Whatever limits you decide, they should be consistently enforced, and ensure that screen time does not interfere with daily physical activity, sleep or other essential health needs.
Benefits to Consider
It’s easy for a pregnant, first-time mom to read these new recommendations and find them completely reasonable, if not a bit lenient on screen time exposure when compared with previous AAP statements on the matter. However, any mom of a Peppa Pig, Elmo or Daniel Tiger loving toddler will likely offer a more realistic perspective on the matter. Simply put, children’s programming has a distinct power to calm and quiet too-young-to-reason-with little ones that can be truly astonishing. If you’ve ever taken a transatlantic flight with a wiggly 2-year-old just learning the power of tantrums or tried to enjoy an entire dinner at a restaurant, you likely understand. It doesn’t matter how many snacks, new toys and sticker books you stash in your diaper bag, the one item that’ll keep your kid the most entertained (saving your sanity in the process) will likely be your iPad. You may not like to admit it, but those little devices have a pretty impressive amount of power that you feel like you yield by proxy when using to help entertain your child. But beyond helping parents a few moments of peace, a bigger benefit is that screens can serve as an excellent teaching tool for kids of all ages, thanks to an ever-growing roster in high-quality programming for kids. From classic favorites like Sesame Street to newer options like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and new original options from Netflix and Amazon, the quality of children’s television is on the rise, just as it has been for adults.
Potential Downsides of Tablet Usage
The fact that certain kids shows and apps have the power to instantly calm your wild toddler presents just as much of a downside as it does a benefit. As a busy parent trying to multitask and get everything done, it’s admittedly all too easy to rely too heavily on the power of screen time to keep your toddler busy as you finish making dinner or send a work email. Another downside of tablet usage is that if you’re not mindful about what you child is watching and how much of it that they are consuming daily, it could interfere with their social interaction, learning and brain development. In order to avoid this, it is key for parents to stay aware of their children’s screen time.