Are tablets screwing up our kids?

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Back in the day, when we were kids and we broke the rules, the punishment was often something like no TV for a week. Today, it’s not uncommon to see an ill-behaved, screaming child given a tablet to dry those eyes and quiet them up. (Mama don’t have time for a headache.) How does this effect children? The New York Times today reported that the impact may, in fact, be extremely detrimental to a child’s developing mind.

Of course, it’s hard to tell what exact effects the modern tablet will have on children, since it’s such a new technology. It’ll be a few more years yet before we’ll fully understand its impact. “We really don’t know the full neurological effects of these technologies yet,” explained Dr. Gary Small, director of longevity at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Children, like adults, vary quite a lot, and some are more sensitive than others to an abundance of screen time.”

So, let’s use the example of the dinner table, shall we? Is it okay to hand over a tablet to make you’re your kids behave while out in public? Dr. Small says that, due to our brain’s sensitivity to stimuli, the importance of kids having regular conversations, such as those at the dinner table, are extremely important to the development of social skills, whereas constantly being distracted by a tablet could hinder those skills.

But you might be asking: what’s the difference between kids coloring, as so many do while at a restaurant, or playing their favorite iPad game? According to Ozlem Ayduk, associate professor in the Relationships and Social Cognition Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, well…not that much. “There are value-based lessons for children to talk to people during a meal. It’s not so much about the iPad [or other tablet] versus non-electronics.”

So crayons versus tablets: which is the better option? Sherry Turkle, professor of science, technology, and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that neither is a viable option. She argues that, even if the child isn’t engaged in a conversation with his or her parents, they then retreat into their own minds and, in a sense, have a conversation with themself.

“They need to be able to explore their imagination. To be able to gather themselves and know who they are,” said Turkle. “So someday they can form a relationship with another person without a panic of being alone. If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely.”

There you have it. At the end of the day, tablets may not be the devil, as far as child development. What’s important is to make sure kids have every day, regular, distraction-free interaction.

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