How young is too young?

Debbi Carberry Children, Electronic Devices

Play Deficit

As I walk through shopping centres, go to restaurants or sit in a park, I will usually see a little person fully engaged on either a mobile phone, iPad or tablet.

It seems that electronics have become the new playground for many young children.

I don’t want to sound like a dinosaur but what happened to interactive tactile play?   Where kids got dirty and explored their environment, where they sat chatting to their toys for a long while and shared with the adults around them the wonder of the most familiar objects?

Through play children are able to explore their physical world and use all of their senses which is very important to help them to ­develop motor and communication skills. Running, jumping, building, constructing and drawing help to build the skills of grasping, pinching (important for writing) as well as posture and balance.

Occupational and Speech Therapists are seeing more children with poor muscle tone and motor delays that can be attributed to a lack of conventional play and overuse of electronics.

When little children see older siblings and parents using mobile phones and tablets they want to do it too. A recent survey about tablet use and toddlers showed as many as 40 percent of babies under two and nearly 75 percent of kids under eight are using them.

Unlike traditional play young children are able to tap a screen and something exciting happens instantly.  Kids are captivated by a brightly coloured screens rather than interacting with other children and adults in their real world.

I do think there can be a time and place for electronics for young children for example when there are limited options to keep a child content e.g. a flight. As well as for children who have disabilities – these devices (known in the disability field as assistive technologies) can open up a whole new world of possibilities for children.

However I am now seeing parents in my clinic who tell me that their young children are becoming quite distressed when an electronic is taken from them and that it can be difficult to redirect them to other activities once they have the iPad for a while.

For children from 2 – 6 be concerned if your child:

  • Is showing a lack of interest in other activities
  • Is constantly talking about technology
  • Is displaying mood swings
  • Becomes upset when the device it taken away
  • Becomes secretive about taking the device

Here are some guidelines for electronic device use:

Children Under 2 Years

The recommendations are no TV or electronic devices.

Children 2 to 6 Years

  • Watching TV or using electronic devices should be limited to no more than one hour per day – preferably split up into a few smaller chunks of time.
  • When children do use a device it’s beneficial for a parent to sit with the child and play together.
  • Set boundaries and get the kids outside to play, encourage conventional play and add some electronic time into the mix.
  • Never have electronic devices in a child’s bedroom.
  • Choose educational apps and games only for this age group.

I would love to hear your comment, questions or suggestions in relation to this blog or future posts. Until next time …