It's easy to get babies and toddlers to sit still simply by handing them your smart phone or a digital toy. Now, it's time to seriously think twice about doing this. In a new clinical report, pediatricians are pointing out the negative effects of electronic devices on toddlers. They strongly urge parents to avoid buying and giving their toddlers digital toys and devices, saying it gets in the way of children's development.
It's all too easy to keep our toddlers quiet and in one place by handing them a digital device. But pediatricians are now urging you to re-think doing this. Image: File photo
Do not ignore the negative effects of electronic devices on your toddler
In a clinical report released on December 3 by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), doctors highlight the negative effects of electronic devices and toys on our little ones. And if these are on your holiday list of toys to gift your child, you should perhaps strike them off already.
The pediatricians involved in this new clinical report are not just talking about apps, either. Included in their list of developmentally harmful digital devices for toddlers are also interactive digital toys designed for little ones.
Because, according to these, such toys and devices are as bad as parking your toddler in front of the TV to keep him occupied. The negative effects of electronic devices on your toddler include impact on his development, which parents should take very seriously.
A red flag for parents
In toddlerhood, your child goes through some very important phases of development: language and communication, cognitive, emotional, and physical. By giving toddlers more screen time and less active/ imaginative play time, all these areas of crucial development are affected.
"Physical toys (and books) support warm, verbally rich interactions and quality time for the parent or caregiver and the child," said report co-author Dr. Alan Mendelsohn of New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City.
"The same is not true for digital toys, which actually impede those interactions. There is little or no evidence that screen time has any benefit for young children 2 and under," he continued.
But, even though AAP guidelines clearly indicate that children under the age of two should not have any screen time at all -- digital games, TV, or toys -- parents too often disregard this.
In their report published in Pediatrics, Mendelsohn and his colleagues note that parents often give babies and toddlers digital apps and toys thinking that they're educational. But in fact, they are not, and it cannot be compared to real-life learning.
Take this example Dr Anay Bhalarao presents:
"When you child wants to find out where Australia is and does this on a globe, there is a lot of active learning involved. Is it in the northern hemisphere or southern? How is it positioned in relation to other land masses? And if you miss it while turning the globe around once, you will find it again during the next turn.
"And this also builds up ‘associated learning’: the earth is round, how day and night occur. The child also builds a ‘spacial orientation’, where a thing is in three dimensions, when she uses a physical toy.
"When you use a screen for the same purpose, all these nuances of learning may be lost."
When you give your kids screen time, make sure they're not alone, blankly staring at the device. This will help negate the negative effects of electronic devices on their development. Image: File photo
Does this mean you should ditch the devices forever? No, but there is a condition
Babies and toddlers love to play, and for very good reason. Play in childhood nurtures warm, interactive relationships between child and caregivers. It fosters development in behavioral, emotional and social skills. At the same time, it encourages learning.
When children play alone with digital toys, the negative effects of electronic devices on their development is intensified. This is because there is none of that interaction between child and adult, or child and child, that looking for Australia on a globe, or playing hide-and-seek involves.
But it's not all bad news for electronic devices and toys. If you do choose to allow your toddler to play with them, then select those that offer an interactive experience between child and caregiver.
Also, the digital toys and devices you select should not overstimulate your child (with loud noises and over-bright colours) and, should encourage little ones to use their imagination.
Some timely reminders about age-based screen time
- For children under two years old: No screen time at all
- For children between two and five years old: Less than one hour a day (TV, devices included). You should only permit computer or device games if they developmentally appropriate. A child of this age should never play alone on these gadgets.
Remember: interaction and co-viewing are key.
"Psychologists have long urged parents not to simply plop a child in front of a television set to stare at the screen alone, but rather to practice co-viewing, stopping often to interact with the child over content and ensure they are getting the developmentally important messages," said Larry Rosen of California State University Dominguez Hills to Reuters news agency.
"I am not suggesting that digital toys are worthless. Quite the contrary, I see them as a wonderful adjunct to allow parents another way of pumping critical skills and information into their children in an engaging environment," he elaborated.
The three C's to consider when choosing a tech toy for your kid
According David Kleeman, an ambassador with not-for-profit organization, The Genius of Play, parents should keep these pointers in mind when selecting tech toys for their little ones:
- Content: In what way does this electronic gadget for kids stimulate children to engage, express, imagine, or explore?
- Context: In what way does the electronic gadget for kids add on to, and not interrupt, a child’s natural play?
- The unique Child: Parents need additional support in selecting the right toys according to the child's needs and abilities. How do we do that by outlining what was originally intended in making the toy, rather than exaggerating what the possible outcomes of using it?
You can also consider STEM learning for your kids, from an early age. Just click here to find out how.
Also read: How many Christmas gifts should you give your kids?
Sources: Pediatrics, Reuters