Q: I keep hearing how younger and younger children are being exposed to electronics — that there are computers in preschool classrooms, that kids are using smart phones to learn the alphabet, and that a children’s version of the iPad is in the works at Fisher Price.  This exposure to electronics at such an early age certainly has an effect on children’s social and family life, the way they play, and their academics. My question is whether these effects are positive or negative — is the next generation benefiting from these electronics?
Interested in the iGeneration, in Boston, MA

A: Dear Interested,

This is an important question, and unfortunately, we only have limited data to help us answer it. We do know that computers and other interactive media have immense teaching potential. They respond to the user’s actions (at least in a basic kind of way,) so for skills and drills learning (for example, memorizing the alphabet, learning numbers, practicing arithmetic), they can be a great supplement to what a teacher or parent can offer for instruction.

Electronics are not, however, good at teaching children how to think or that they should ask questions, or use creativity—all of which are critical parts of the learning process. These skills are what help young kids learn to love learning itself, which is one of the most important academic skills to gain. For that, in-person interaction is essential. A recent study, for example, helped demonstrate the difference between being read to in-person versus being read to through a screen: When the reader was physically present, there was greater activation of the child’s frontal lobe (the part of the brain associated with reasoning, emotions, and problem solving) than when the reader was on a screen.

In addition to these limitations, there is real concern that increased screen time contributes to kids being less connected to their family, friends, and others. A recent study from New Zealand showed that both today and 20 years ago, increased screen time was associated consistently with poorer attachment to parents and peers. Other issues connected with more screen time include social isolation, obesity, and increased risk of exposure to
violent and sexual content

If electronic media are used in thoughtful, focused, and limited ways, however, they can be a boon to your kids. You can help ensure that this happens by paying attention to what kinds of electronic media they are using and how much time they spend using them. Help them learn to watch a specific show, play a certain game, or talk to a certain person, then to shut them off rather than surfing without direction.  And, as always, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that media are used after all the important tasks of life–like sleeping enough, eating good meals, getting exercise, and spending time with family–are complete.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

3 Responses to “Are kids benefiting from all these electronics?”

  1. Anonymous

    My opinion as a mother I think electronics are also useful to our kids. But it depends on how we exposed these materials to them and how they used it. We should always guide them especially if they used computer that has internet because they might visit an adult site which they can see pictures and videos that are not healthy for them. The best thing to do is assist our kids and make sure they are learning from electronics materials they are using.

  2. charleswarren

    Electronics products dominate almost any sector of world population.Electronics have made life for the modern man more efficient, suitable and comfortable.

  3. Busymom4

    No, early learners do not benefit from tech device use, actually the opposite it true! Ask any Kindergarten or First grade teacher and they will tell you that the students cannot fully use their hands due to the amount of time spent playing on Iphones and Ipads. Young students can’t properly hold scissors and pencils, but they do have a very strong index finger (sigh). Young brains are wired for active play and stimulation to properly develop motor skill development and core strength, which they are not getting playing on tech devices.


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