Let’s face it – technology is an integral part of our daily lives. Some of us spend entire days working in front of computers, we use our phones to read the newspaper during the morning commute, play games, stream Netflix, and browse the internet. It is a constant around us, so why not incorporate it into our kid’s lives beginning when they are infants? In fact, many of us do so without a conscious choice. It just happens, after all, “there is an app for that.”
While I’m guilty of handing over my phone when my niece and nephew begin to get antsy at restaurants, or while they’re waiting for the adults to finish their conversations to avoid meltdowns, as a speech-language pathologist, I am a believer that a parent should not rely on television/media. Particularly, a parent shouldn’t rely on apps, TV, or other entertainment media to help their children with developmental growth – especially for language skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with “screen time” guidelines and recommend children under 2 avoid all types of media as the brain develops. It is not the usage of media that is negative per se, although there have been studies linking the use of excessive screen time to behavioral issues, difficulty with attention and focus, and difficulty developing social skills and language patterns, according to the joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Education and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College. So why are these studies focusing so much on the effects of media on children under the age of 2? Simple answer: the brain is developing rapidly during this time period.At birth, an infant has 2500 synapses per neuron, which increases to 15000 per neuron by the age of 3. Children learn language from things such as simple conversations with their parents and siblings, songs, rhymes, and books – these interactions are how the neural connections for their language development are stimulated to grow. It is this earliest stimulation that sets the tone for their continual development, so if parents provide little direct stimulation, the connections will not be made, and their language development could be at risk for being delayed.
Not all studies unilaterally agree with the AAP’s total avoidance policy for children under the age of 2, because if utilized properly, it can actually be very beneficial. A 2013 study from Stirling University’s School of Education found that a family’s attitude of technology influenced the children’s reaction. If the parents engage in passive media time (meaning not interactive or requiring much thought), children will then make the connection that it is ok for them to utilize passive media as well, which as explained earlier does not stimulate the neuronal connections. However, active engagement poses a different story. I utilize apps during my therapy time, as it is an easier way to have all of the materials I need readily on hand, though I do not solely rely on it. Children may also need to use media in other ways, such as those who rely on the technology to help communicate as an assistive device due to communication disorders. In this case, their media usage is essential.
Parents.com has what I consider an excellent list of the top educational apps for kids. Here are my picks for the top 3:
- Elmo loves 123s. This app works on identify the numbers, tracing the numbers, simple addition and subtraction.
- Disney Story Central. This app houses a collection of e-books that consists of a read-along narrative. These are characters that your children can make connections with and lets face it. Who doesn’t love Disney?
- The Sight Word Adventure. This app works on visual attention, memory and listening comprehension while the child practices the sight words they need for the foundation of reading.
A good list of the worst educational apps can be found over at Education.com. You’ll find a list of apps that are considered inappropriate for those kids 17 and under. Their list includes: Snapchat, the app that allows you to send pictures that self-destroy after 90 seconds; Poof; the app that is able to make apps disappear with one touch, and Samari vs. Zombies Defense; this app is violent and characterized as gruesome, to name a few.
As a parent or loving family member we are the ones that influence the younger generations, from their values, outlooks on life, and the most basic functions of their language skills. It is our responsibility to guide them and help the develop the skills needed in life the best way we know how – so remember to interact and engage with them as much as possible in positive ways. Technology is not detrimental to the development of the child if utilized properly – but be sure to connect with professional resources if you have any questions or concerns.
Media & Children Policy Statement. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed April 29,2015
Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Joint Position Statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Education and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College. Accessed April 29, 2015.
Phillipa Roxby. Does Technology Hinder or Help Toddlers’ Learning? BBC Health News. Accessed April 29, 2015
Judith Graham. Children and Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn. University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publications. Bulletin #4356. Accessed April 29, 2015.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Accessed April 29, 2015
Christen Brandt, Cheryl Lock, and Chrisanne Grise. The Best Educational Apps for Kids. Parents.com. Accessed April 29, 2015.