a touch-screen deviceSmart phones, tablets, and other touch-screen devices may seem like a good way to keep young children quiet, but new research from Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York has found that these devices do not benefit toddlers. Although many parents believe that using touch-screen devices is educational, children who used touch screen-devices did not score any better on development tests. The research suggests that parents who use a smart phone as their child’s main toy may want to rethink their approach and provide age-appropriate toys instead.

The researchers surveyed 65 families with infants aged zero to three years. Nearly all of the families (63 of the 65) owned a touch screen device. On average, the children started using touch screen devices at 11 months and used the device for 36 minutes daily. The most common uses for touch-screen devices were:

  • Watching children’s “educational shows” (30%)

  • Pressing buttons aimlessly (28%)

  • Using educational applications (26%)

  • Playing non-educational games (14%)

Children who played non-educational games like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja using touch-screen devices had lower verbal scores when tested, despite the belief of many parents (60%) that the devices held educational benefits for their children. There was no significant difference in testing scores between children who used touch-screen devices and children with no exposure to touch screens.

The effects of touch-screen devices on development for children under three have not yet been studied. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) 2013 policies state that media can have positive, prosocial effects on children, but the policies do not address children in the zero to three age group. However, the AAP’s 2011 policies discouraged the use of electronic media for children younger than two years.

“It was striking to see that parents were substituting books and general baby toys for smart phones. Many parents did not seem to bring any other distraction for their children except the touch screen devices,” chief investigator Ruth Milanaik, DO, attending developmental and behavioral physician at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

This research was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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