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April 4, 2013

3 Important Points from The Atlantic Magazine’s Cover Story on Toddlers and Tablets

The Atlantic magazine subscriptionEver wondered what effect tablet use will have on a toddler’s development? It’s too soon for research-backed answers, but The Atlantic examines some of the anecdotal evidence.

Your tablet or other touch-screen device probably started out as a godsend that made your life more convenient. Then that convenience somewhere along the way also became a way to placate a fussy child in public or occupy one at home.

Whether it’s an option of last resort or it’s an educational tool, do you ever wonder what effect turning your toddler on to a tablet will do to his or her development?

That’s an answer that’s still under construction, according to The Atlantic magazine’s April cover story, simply because tablets are too new and the data is largely anecdotal.

Still, with the amount of time and research that’s gone into developing the more than 40,000 apps directed at children—many to toddlers in particular—just on iTunes alone, it’s a question worth asking nonetheless.

Though The Atlantic article made no firm conclusions nor passed along any concrete professional recommendations, it did make three important points regarding toddlers and tablet use.

Interactive vs. Passive: The most closely related research between children and media use has been with television, long regarded a passive activity. Some research, though, suggests it’s not as stupor-inducing—even in young children—as we may think.

That’s where future research examining tablet use and interactive apps gets exciting. So far, only Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues show mimicked that responsiveness in which children felt they were interacting the medium, but even then, that was only a one-way exchange of information.

In the void of such research giving the stamp of approval to interactive app use, many parents place limits on how long their little ones can play on their tablets.

Educational vs. Fun: Many parents justify their children’s use of apps by limiting them to educational ones. However, the article suggests that not everything in a child’s life is “educational.” For example, what does a child learn by running around the yard, climbing a tree or feeling the sand between his fingers at the beach?

They are all experiences, yes, but what is gleaned from them? To that end, not every app can be labeled as purely educational in the sense that it teaches the alphabet, phonics and the like. To a child, as long as an app is fun, he or she is drawn to it.

And if somehow an educational app, like Noodle Words or The Numberlys, is both fun and educational, then all the better.

Essential vs. Non-Essential: It’s quite easy for adults to see touch-screen devices, such as tablets or smartphones, as essential pieces of their lives. To children, many of whom have never known a world without them, it’s often viewed as just another diversion.

Hanna Rosin, who wrote the article, took the approach with her 4-year-old that was used by another writer, who allowed his son access to the iPad whenever and for however long he wanted to use it. When the restrictions were lifted, Rosin’s son turned to the iPad for several hours a day. But after about ten days, the tablet fell out of the rotation in favor of other his other toys. (The same happens with TV watching, too.)

Even after, Rosin wrote that he picked up the iPad less often, and when he did, it was to play a game that was prompted by an activity at school, such as learning the alphabet.



About the Author

Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.




  • Tha

    I am going to have to find this article, I have wondered about the effects of “computer time” for kids but do feel like the educational apps out there are great. I do think it is important to also make sure my son gets outside to kick the soccer ball and climb trees as having outdoor activities is a very important part of growing up too!