In a world where parents want to provide their children with every possible advantage to succeed in today’s competitive world, giving kids access to computer tablets like iPads at an early age is an increasingly common choice. After all, it only makes sense that early exposure will help our children become computer literate and thus more successful, right? No. It turns out there is increasing evidence that allowing kids access to computer tablets at an early age may be counterproductive. Instead, it is the children who are permitted to spend less ‘screen time’ and more time at creative play with others — such as making things with their own hands — who seem to do better at learning the creative, cognitive, and social skills necessary for success later in life.
Screen Time for Kids Starts Early, Increases with Age
Today’s generation of young parents — now in their mid-thirties and younger — are the first wave of “Digital Natives” who grew up using computer technology since childhood. Perhaps that’s why they are increasingly comfortable incorporating screen-based technology as part of day-to-day parenting.
Here are some examples which may be familiar to you:
- Taking a long road trip and the kids are cranky? Pop in a DVD and the kids sitting in the back can watch it from multiple screens built into the headrests of the family minivan.
- Your newborn to toddler age child is restless and won’t stop crying? Put him or her in a bouncy seat with a specially built-in frame designed to hold an iPad device. It’s the perfect babysitter.*
Is screen technology really the perfect babysitter?
The Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood (CCFC) has been concerned about the increasing number of hours that today’s kids spend in front of screens. The organization has collected research that indicates:
Hours of Screen Time
|2 to 5 years olds||2.2 hours per day|
|Pre-Schoolers||4.1 – 4.6 hours per day|
|8 to 18 years olds||7.5 hours per day|
Other research studies indicate that nearly 30% of infants under 12 months are already watching TV and videos for 90 minutes a day on average. By the time these children are two, 64% are of them watching TV and videos for slightly more than two hours a day.
Worryingly, when young kids start using computer tablets like iPads, time spent watching TV and videos remains unaffected. In other words, using computer tablets like iPads doesn’t seem to cut down on time spent watching TV and videos; it actually increases the overall number of hours kids are watching screens each day.
*In 2013, CCFC launched a campaign directed at Apple to discontinue their licensing agreement Fisher-Price’s Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity™ Seat for iPad® Device
10 Reasons to Put Away Computer Tablets Like iPads When It Comes to Child Development
Parents should be concerned about the following research compiled by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood when allowing their children to use computer tablets such as iPads:
1. No Screen Time for Kids Two and Under
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under two do not have access to screens at all. They also recommend no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day for kids three and up. (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media 2010)
2. Computer Tablets Can Cause Sleep Issues
Studies indicate children who did not use computer tablets were able to fall asleep faster and sleep longer with fewer problems than those children who used tablets. Proper sleep is crucial for mental development and cognitive learning; it also appears to help reduce the risk of weight gain and diabetes.
3. School Performance and Social Behavior
Researchers have found children who do not use computer tablets perform better in school, with increased learning and attention and fewer social problems.
4. Rates of Physical Exercise
Children who do not use computer tablets get more exercise, which is crucial for physical development and mental well-being.
5. Better Nutrition
Children who are not allowed access to computer tablets have been found to have better eating habits. Proper nutrition is critical for child development.
6. Life Long Habits
Research indicates that those children who do not use computer video games exhibit higher rates of curiosity than those children who form attachments to passive video games — and these habits last into adulthood.
7. Exposure to Violent, Sexualized Content
Exposure to violent sexualized content found in many computer games and videos is associated with poor academic performance in school.
8. Positive Influence of Adults
Children who had limited access to computer screens appeared to have more time for creative play with family members and caring adults.
9. Reading Comprehension
Studies indicate that illustrated digital e-books interfere with story understanding and reading comprehension.
10. Play is Necessary for Development
Researchers have concluded that passive screen watching is not a substitute for play in children, which in turn is a critical tool for mental and social development.
Are There Better Alternatives than Tablets for Your Child’s Mental and Social Development?
Every parent wants their children to develop into socially well-rounded, physically fit adults who are successful and fulfilled in their chosen career.
The question is how to go about it.
The answer may be, quite simply, child’s play.
At the 2008 TED “Serious Play” Conference, designer Tim Brown, from the renowned industrial design firm IDEO, talks about the importance of play in creativity in this video clip:
What are the 10 Important Ways that Play Can Help Your Child Develop?
- Play improves motor manipulation and strength.
- Play helps develop spatial thinking and reasoning.
- Play encourages creative thinking and imagination as children pretend and develop stories.
- Play helps develop problem-solving skills.
- Play is an ideal introduction to STEM skills in physics, mechanics, and mathematics.
- Play encourages cooperation and sharing social skills.
- Play helps build self-esteem.
- Play helps establish self-expression and individualism.
- Play helps children identify potential career and hobby interests.
- Play provides life-long skills for making things, not just being a passive consumer.
Time for a Parenting Reset? Get Inspired by Taking Your Child to a Children’s Museum
So, if you are a parent and now looking for more play and less screen time, where do you begin?
Why not take a trip with your kids to your local Children’s Museum for inspiration?
The mission of the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum in Peoria, Illinois is to provide children with the tools and inspiration they need to be explorers and creators of the world. This museum is also a Formaspace client.
According to a case study prepared by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, a visit to their children’s museum will help kids in important ways, including:
- Learning basic physics and mechanics.
- Providing a way for parents to participate in their child’s learning activities.
- Encouraging pretend play, a key driver of language development.
- Improving social interaction with other kids, including conflict resolution.
Toys and Activities that Fuel Creativity and Learning without Relying on Computer Tablets
After a visit to a children’s museum with your kids, you may be inspired to re-create the kind of educational play environment at home.
Here are some ideas for toys and activities that rely more on creating and building things with your hands and less on watching passive screens:
Nearly all the ‘retro’ toys are still available today, including classics like the Fischer Price Rock-a-Stack, Lincoln Logs (invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John), and Tinker Toys. Even the famous Erector Set brand, which was purchased by the French company Meccano, still sells a similar product under the Meccano brand.
Of course, kids don’t need a custom-made kit to learn and have fun. Depending on the age, paper, scissors and glue may be appropriate before moving on to hammers, saws, and nails. Model making is a vital skill for developing fine motor skills and can inspire young engineers and designers who may graduate to taking part in Makerspace activities in their teen years.
Electronics and Robotics
For older kids interested in more advanced play, both Meccano and the ubiquitous Lego (with their Technic and Mindstorms lines) offer electronic and mechanical systems that can challenge young minds. More advanced kids may want to check out Make magazine or programming projects involving Raspberry Pi computer modules sold by AdaFruit; many of these projects are oriented toward teens who want to learn to create working robots, wearable electronics, and other cool projects.
Scouting and Exploring
Getting out into nature and exploring is another way to help youth develop teamwork, problem solving and self-sufficiency.
Drawing and Sculpting
A pad of paper and a set of pencil or crayons is often all you need to open child’s eyes to a world of creative expression. Non-toxic sculpting materials like Sculpy or home-made paper-mache make excellent projects. Older kids may want to learn how to carve wooden blocks and do their own printmaking.
Sewing and Crafts
Sewing is especially good at helping develop spatial thinking by learning how fabric drapes and moves over three-dimensional surfaces. You don’t always need to follow pattern books: have your kids try taking apart an old shirt and recreating it into a new design. They might come up with something to sell on Etsy — an added bonus to learn about the world of business.
Gardening and Cooking
Teaching your children how to grow vegetables in the garden and how to prepare them in the kitchen will teach them life-long skills in nutrition and self-sufficiency.
Having Trouble Making the Break?
Making the break from ubiquitous computer screens can be a hard transition. The CFCC has prepared a resource guide to help teachers and parents reduce screen-time.
Formaspace Cares about Educating America’s Future Leaders
As long-term proponents of reinvigorating the American workforce, we have a vested interest in helping the next generation of kids get the best education possible — one that teaches them to be creative, innovative, and thought-leaders in today’s rapidly developing technologies. After all, this is a far bigger issue than the success of our business alone — as individual citizens and taxpayers, we all depend on the talent of young workers, researchers and scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and political leaders to help make our economy grow throughout the 21st century.