A recent survey reveals that many young children are using mobile devices without supervision. Against the advice of most pediatric experts, more and more parents are enabling their children to use tablets, smartphones, and iPads for entertainment and, in increasing numbers, children are allowed to use the devices unattended. For stressed out parents, reaching for a mobile device can be an easy way to placate an upset toddler, but experts warn that the trend may be causing more harm to children’s development than good.
This revelation comes out of a survey conducted among 350 parents of small children in Philadelphia, most of whom are low-income African Americans. Of those asked, three-quarters of parents admitted that their children had been allowed to use a tablet or smartphone without supervision by the time they were four years-old. The admissions come from self-reported data directly from the parents and aren’t necessarily representative of nationwide behaviors, but they could be. Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The New York Times that he felt the findings were “not all that different” from what he suspects regarding mobile device usage by young children. Rich went on to say that he wouldn’t “be surprised if these levels of device ownership and use were similar in many families.”
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Nationwide surveys show that children’s use of mobile devices is skyrocketing. In a survey by Common Sense Media, 72% of children age eight or younger used a mobile device in 2013, compared with just 38% in 2011. In the Philadelphia survey, an alarming 65% of parents asked said they had allowed their children (aged six months to four years) to use a mobile device in public to keep them calm. Others still, around 25%, admitted to letting their young children go to sleep with the devices, despite the fact that the backlit screens can interfere with sleep cycles. Although child development experts acknowledge that tablets can be useful tools for interactive learning, they warn that overuse and specifically use without supervision could lead to big problems down the road.
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the survey, told The New York Times, “If children are sitting by themselves glued to digital candy, we simply don’t know what the consequences are for their early social development.”