School & District Management

Toddlers Gain Touch-Screen Skills Early, Study Finds

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 21, 2015 2 min read
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Ever put your smartphone or iPad down to do something, only to turn around a moment later and find your toddlers ensconced on the couch, powering through their favorite games?

Toddlers are becoming adept at using touchscreen technology associated with smartphones and tablets, in ways that could help educators assess early skills, according to a new study in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Deirdre Murray, the principal investigator of clinical investigations at the pediatrics department of Cork University Hospital in Ireland, surveyed families of 82 children ages 1 to 3 on technology use.

More than 80 percent of parents reported they had touch-screen devices, and 9 out of 10 allowed their toddlers to use them. About two-thirds of parents had downloaded apps specifically for their children.

Moreover, Murray found the majority of toddlers—who used the phones and tablets on average 15 minutes a day—could swipe, unlock the screen, and actively search for features like a specific app by age 2. Moreover, a third of children could perform those skills and also identify and use specific touch-screen features like an app or a camera by 29 months old.

The use of touch-screen devices by young children has exploded since Apple released the iPhone in 2007, but researchers still are learning how such early touch-screen use can affect children developmentally. The study parents notwithstanding, the American Academy of Pediatrics still advises against exposure to such devices before age 2. Yet Murray suggested some of children’s interaction with touch screens “offer a level of engagement not previously experienced with other forms of media and more akin to traditional play.”

Most research on screen time for young children is based on television, which provides limited opportunities for children to interact with the content. Studies have found positive effects for young children, primarily when viewing educational programing like Sesame Street with an adult who can discuss what the children think about what they are seeing.

Moreover, she concluded, the devices “can also adapt to an individual child’s level, allowing increasing complexity and providing positive feedback for a task achieved. This opens up the potential application of these devices for both assessment of development and early intervention in high-risk children.”

Photo: The author’s toddlers steal her phone yet again to play an alphabet game. The author is still debating whether this shows technological adeptness, lack of ethics, or both. Source: Daniel Dockery


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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