Q: I am mom to a 3-year-old and a newborn. I’m careful about the amount and content of my kids’ screen time. I occasionally try to find simple computer games for my toddler to develop keyboard and mouse skills, but I wonder if these skills will be relevant for her in the future. I’m starting to see more and more coverage about kids’ overuse of apps and wonder if my kids will miss out by having zero smartphone exposure.
—App Anxious, Belmont, MA
A: Dear Anxious,
There is a significant amount of research on children and TV viewing, but we are still learning about the effects of tablet, smartphone, computer, and other interactive technology use on their health and development.
It sounds as if you have two questions:
- What is my child learning at this age? Babies and toddlers are learning how to connect with others, how to creatively solve open-ended problems, and how cause and effect work, particularly in their interactions with the physical world. If the app or device you are considering will support one or more of those key tasks, then it may be worthwhile. But remember that an app or device can never replace you as a parent. Continue to prioritize personal interaction, play, or even using an app together.
- How will this help my child in the future? Given how quickly technology changes, the mouse-clicking and finger-swiping skills that your child is learning now probably won't be useful by the time she’s in high school. Think about how dramatically iPads have changed they way we use computers in the past 2 years. Who knows what the technology will be in the next 5, 10, or 20 years? On the other hand, when your daughter experiences cause and effect through direct experience—like building a tower of blocks and knocking it over, or smiling at you and seeing you melt—she develops basic awareness and skills that she will need to navigate the world of the future. Focus on building those skills.
As long as children are given exposure to loving care-takers and an environment where they are able to complete their age-appropriate developmental tasks, they won’t ‘miss out’ by not using apps. Remember is that apps are tools and should be evaluated by how well they will help your child learn now and develop skills for the future. If you choose to bring apps into your kids’ lives, pick apps that you will use with them and that teach real-world skills that they can build upon as they develop.
Please see the below to help you choose developmentally conscious apps:
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,