A Guide to Screen Devices for Toddlers

4 min read
A Guide to Screen Devices for Toddlers

Did you see our article: Screen Devices: Good, Bad, or Undecided? We discussed the increased number of toddlers being provided with tablets, smartphones and other interactive screen devices.

While some paediatricians suggest that all “screen time” including television and touch-screen devices, should be prolonged until after two years of age, if a tablet/smartphone or other feedback providing screen device is going to be used there are some considerations to be made as to what the device is used for, how it is going to be used, and when.

Based on the recommendations of the Director of the Barnard College for Toddler Development, Toviah Klein, the low-down on screen device use in toddlers, as it stands today, is as such:

Screen-time (whether television or on screen devices) tends to be relatively sedentary. Fundamental motor skills and the development from the senses are encouraged through the physical exploration of their world and stimulating the senses – an aspect tablets/smartphones generally don’t provide and thus time spent on them should be limited.

Tablets/smartphones are often provided to toddlers to “soothe” or appease them. Paediatricians suggest that rather than to distract from the issue at hand with a cranky toddler to instead address the issue. Speaking with them and focusing on what’s making them upset is a better strategy than diverting the issue with a screen device.

We do not know for certain the potential for harm or detriment on the cognitive development pertaining to screen device use in toddlers, as studies are very limited. We do know, however, that the brains of under twos are developing rapidly and are best stimulated through interactions with their care-providers and environments. Screen devices should never take away from actual child/parent learning experiences.

“Monkey see, monkey do!” Under twos are constantly looking to their parents/care providers as role-models and seek them out when they want attention or need assistance. A parent being drawn in by their own “screen device” can miss cues for parenting themselves. Using devices in front of your toddler not only means that they will seek to do the same, but you may also prioritise the device of the needs of your child. Out of sight is out of mind and can benefit parent and toddler alike.

There is know substantiated evidence to suggest delaying the introduction of technology “holds children back”, nor improves their intelligence or has any educational benefit before the age of two.

Guidelines suggested by paediatricians when using a screen device with a toddler:

The experience should not be passive, or unsupported. If you are going to engage in a tablet or smartphone with a child it should be a case of interacting with it together, and using an educational rather than non-educational application, or a non-interactive film/TV show viewing. Parent support while using the screen device means the child will get the most out of the educational potential of the application, and use it as intended.

Use should be limited to short bursts – ten to fifteen minutes – and in a supported environment as recommended above, rather than leaving the child to “occupy themselves” with a screen device. Whilst its appreciated that parents can’t “actively play” with their children 24/7, a screen device is a lesser standard of choice over conventional toys, books, or the general home environment.

Tablets and smartphones are often provided to a child when at a cafe or out for dinner. It’s suggested that this takes away from the child’s social and environmental engagement and “removes them” from the experience and thus is suggested against, and engaging them in the experience is far better than distracting them from it. Eating out is a great way to learn how to behave in public.

Essentially it’s suggested that if the devices are going to be used by toddlers at all, they should be complementary to usual child/parent interactions, rather than in place of them, and that a child’s development is best facilitated through the interactions they have with their care provider and through exploration of their normal environment beyond that provided by a 7-inch screen.

How do you feel about screen devices for toddlers?


About Author

Emma Boyce

Emma Boyce is a Coffee-chugging/chocolate-smuggling/poker-playing fandom mama with a big thing for Science-y things, space stuff, etymology, trivia an...Read Mored "good" people. She is a single mum to a pigeon-pair of pre-school toddlers, and undertakes a Double Degree in Education and Science whilst writing for Stay At Home Mum. Read Less

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