Is my toddler too young to be playing with tablets?

PHOTO: The Straits Times file

It has become common practice for parents to buy their kids smart tech from a very early age (read: infancy). In fact, you can easily spot kids scrolling through their smartphones or tablets wherever you go.

And with toy companies using this to their advantage, finding early-age developmental tech such as tablets for toddlers or smartphones for infants, is also no longer difficult. 

But while these technologies keep kids occupied and, in many cases, help with their cognitive skills, you may want to take a step back to think: should you expose your tot to these at their age? 

Should you buy smartphones and tablets for toddlers?  

Reports suggest that about 14 million Apple iPads were sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2020, and approximately two million people in Singapore use tablets. In fact, back in 2017, studies also found that 78 per cent of families with kids aged between one month and eight years owned a tablet.

Although these numbers look alarming, the fact is that parents often buy smart tech for kids for both recreational and entertainment purposes. 

  • According to Scholastic, touch screens help make learning more interactive for toddlers. The animations on them as well as the audio available helps toddlers understand words.
  • Using a touchscreen where kids can press various buttons and zoom in or out can also hone your preschooler’s fine-motor skills.
  • A 2017 study even found that iPads can be used as a tool to help children with disabilities learn a range of preschool skills.
  • Tablets can also be a great tool for toddlers to socialise through shared screens. Plus, they can use it to play together according to an article from The International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. 

But even with all these advantages, it is important for parents to stick to a disciplined screen time. This encourages digital literacy, while safeguarding toddlers’ health. So what is the ideal screen time for younger kids?   

Ideal screen time: Know when to put tech down for toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not encourage the use of media for kids. In fact, their only exception is for video chatting, for kids younger than 18 to 24 months.

The academy advises that if parents wish to introduce digital media to children that are aged between 18 and 24 months, they should ensure that it's high-quality. Parents of such young kids should avoid using smart tech for solo media use.

As for children aged two to five years, screen time must be limited to one hour per day and only include high-quality programming (that helps with cognitive development). 

But what happens when screen time is higher? How does it affect your toddler’s health? 

  • Toddlers that have too much screen time have poorer behavioural, cognitive, and social development at 36 months. This statistic was shared in a study led by University of Calgary psychologist, Sheri Madigan, PhD.,  

The fact is that face-to-face interactions and quality time with kids are still great and effective teaching tools.

Encourage your little one to spend less time in front of a screen and more time with toys. You can also use pretend play to engage your toddler and and take part in to expand their imagination.

All of these combined will help with their physical, psychological, and emotional skills that may be limited by smart tech. The choice is yours!  

This article was first published in theAsianparent.