Last week, an advocate for limiting young children's exposure to technology reversed his opinion, surprising both parents and pediatricians. Seattle pediatrician Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis helped write the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) guidelines recommending parents avoid any exposure to TV or media for children under the age of two.
In a nutshell, even though the AAP's recommendations were published in 2011, the guidelines were written and reviewed before 2010, when the iPad was introduced.
Doctors had no such device in mind; and since then, technological advances have far outpaced research. “Now, 3 years later, we still know surprisingly little about how iPads and other interactive media technologies affect children's cognition,” he writes.
With tablet games growing in popularity, Christakis felt it important to voice his own personal opinion (independent of the AAP's) that interactive games may have more in common with beneficial block play than with passive TV watching. “I believe that the judicious use of interactive media is acceptable for children younger than the age of 2,” Christakis writes. In fact, he says, interactive screen time limited to 30-60 minutes might actually be beneficial toddlers.
Now, it wouldn't be unreasonable for parents to read this news, breathe a sigh of relief, and hand the tablet over to their 18-month-old — provided, of course, that it's loaded with educational games.
But not so fast! Other pediatricians are not only surprised at Christakis's about-face, they're concerned about how parents are going to interpret “judicious use of interactive media.”
Christakis's opinion makes Phoenix pediatrician Dr. Harry Broome of MVP Kids wary because he sees too many parents handing over smartphones and tablets to their children for mindless entertainment. In an interview with Dr. Broome, he said he fears that “suggesting it is a good thing will inevitably lead to a 'permission' or endorsement for increased use.”
Dr. Carol Wilkinson, a pediatrician and the medical director of parenting advice-sharing network Kinsights, said via email she could see how smartphones and tablets potentially offer much more than just a screen. But, according to Wilkinson, a parent's priority should be spending “quality, one-on-one time with their infant every day where they interact physically, verbally, and socially with their child.”
The right interactive media can be used at the service of interactive play, but the best games actively involve the parent as well.
“I tell parents to avoid using their tablet or phone as a visual babysitter or pacifier. Infants should not be left alone watching a TV, or video on a tablet or phone,” Wilkinson says. And watch your own media use around your children, too. “Finally, I tell parents to put down their own smartphones – take a break from checking email and Facebook – and instead play with your child.”
This is the same advice Broome would give a parent. “Make it a short session, and really be a part of it. Make it an educational and interactive thing.”
In the end, this is the metric pediatricians seem to recommend parents use when deciding whether (and how much) to expose their babies and toddlers to media: Are you using that tablet to enhance your interactive play with your baby, or in place of it?
The iPad is no replacement for quality time with you.