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Are ipads bad for children’s development?

by on 2015/09/29

Media coverage about young children’s use of technology such as iPads and television is as prevalent as ever. A survey published last week examining frequency of use of iPads and other devices in very young children seems to have spurned a range of different views from psychologists and other childhood experts. At Research the Headlines, we have repeatedly emphasised the importance of including independent expert opinions when discussing research; so, in the case of this coverage on toddlers use of iPads, have these experts helped to clarify research findings?

In this case, some of the views put forward by one independent expert can only be considered disturbing. The Daily Mail covered the topic of toddlers using iPads in two different articles last week. The first article reported on the survey conducted by Childwise, which had found a rise in toddlers’ use of technology by approximately 12 more minutes per day than the last survey in 2012. That article referred to a Childwise spokesperson who had commented that the report ‘breaks the traditional correlation previously seen between increasing age and device ownership. By four most youngsters are self-sufficient on a tablet or computer and a significant minority are becoming independent players across the spectrum of mobile phones, TV and the internet.’ The spokesperson appropriately describes the study findings.

Four days later, however, the same newspaper interviewed Dr. Richard House, referred to in the article as a leading psychologist. Here the paper states the expert’s opinion as ‘giving iPads to babies is tantamount to child abuse‘ because it is ‘playing Russian roulette’ with their development‘. Indeed, the headline of the story also refers to use of iPads as like playing ‘Russian roulette’ with a child’s development. He is also quoted as saying that parents should ‘proceed with caution’ to avoid a ‘developmental catastrophe’.  These comments – particularly the reference to use of iPads being ‘tantamount to abuse’ – do not rationally describe the research findings (assuming this story has come on the back of the Childwise survey reported in the same newspaper 4 days before).

In a Research the Headlines post earlier this year, one of our writers spoke about  the moral panic around the use of technology by children in our society. Again, like the coverage around research on this topic at that point, the media focus is heavily opinion-based, moving quite far away from the actual research evidence and using highly emotive language to discuss the topic.  As a child psychologist, the terms ‘playing Russian roulette with a child’s development’ and risk of ‘developmental catastrophe’ are alien to me. During the coverage on this topic back in February, readers scrutinised some of the claims which lead to several outlets backtracking and editing published headings.  It is a pity that, with the passage of time, we end up in the same scenario on this topic.

A detailed discussion of evidence concerning young children’s use of technology by one of our members can be accessed here.






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