I have two kids, ages 7 and 2. My eldest is given access to the iPad on car trips and once in a while at home. My younger son likes to sit by his brother while he plays and of late, has been pointing to it and asking for it. There are some days when I have given in, especially during fussy mealtimes or when I need to work and keep him occupied. My question is, will allowing him to play on the iPad once in a while adversely affect his development? Is it a terrible idea to let him use it sometimes just to give Mommy a break?
– iConcerned, USA
There’s nothing inherently harmful about using tablets for either of your kids, and it may have some benefits. Tablets require that kids interact with the device both mentally and physically, with their fingers and hands not just watching. Particular kinds of learning can happen when a child sees that his action (like touching an image of a cow) makes something else happen (like a “moo” sound), and tablets can offer that kind of engagement in unique ways.
To keep it positive, pay attention to how long they’re using the iPad – your 2-year-old has a significantly shorter attention span than your 7-year-old. Observe him using it once or twice and you will see that after 15-20 minutes, he will probably look up for something else to do. When this occurs, direct him to another sort of play, with blocks, imaginary play, or going outdoors. This way the iPad becomes part of a rich and diverse menu of experience rather than drawing him back in for another cycle.
The content each child is using should be developmentally optimal for each child—and that means having different content for each. Here are some tips to manage time and content:
- Choose content with each child in mind. You can use parent reviews from Common Sense Media to decide which apps, books, and games to try out, choosing a variety of activities such as finger painting, making music, and, for your 7-year-old, activities and games with reading, math, and science. Observe closely how each child responds and interacts with the content he is being exposed to, then help each of them choose content that will both interest and challenge them.
- Use it with them sometimes. The way that kids best use technology to learn and grow is with adult interaction and guidance, bonding with them and “scaffolding” their explorations.
- Use the tablet as part of their rich experience, rather than a babysitter. Continue to foster the same expectations for tablet time with your 2-year-old as you have done with your 7-year-old. While it is okay employ the tablet to smooth car rides or even to grab a few moments to work, I would recommend against using it at mealtimes for a host of physical and mental health reasons. It is important that the iPad doesn’t become an expected (or demanded) part of the daily routine and remains a special, once-in-a-while activity.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,