Experts: Kids Tablet Use Requires Parental Interaction

John Lister's picture

Experts say toddlers should be allowed limited access to tablets and other gadgets. It reverses previous advice that kids under two be kept away from small screens altogether.

The advice comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It now recommends 18 months as the minimum age to "use" screen devices, but says children aged five and under should spend a maximum of one hour a day in front of screens.

It's not a case of 'anything goes', however. The AAP says young kids should only use screens for specific purposes. These include watching "high quality" educational programs alongside adults, and taking part in video chats with family members. (Source:

Screen-Free Rooms Recommended

The AAP says the time limits are needed to avoid screen time coming at the expense of face-to-face interaction and physical activity. It also recommends that parents make sure their home has a room or other area without any access to screens and gadgets where children can play without distraction.

The recommendations come in a report bringing together recent studies on the effects of gadgets with children. It notes that for toddlers, what matters for development is not so much whether technology is used in place of books, toys or other tools. Instead the real difference is whether adults such as parents are interacting with the children during activities, both on and off-screen.

The report also warned that parents of pre-schoolers, relying on educational apps and digital books can backfire. That's partly because many apps simply rely on learning by rote (a memorization technique based on repetition) rather than actively developing literacy and numeracy skills.

Interactive Books Can Harm Reading Skills

Another problem is that some digital books for kids contain interactive features which actually distract from the child comprehending the story itself and thus making it less likely they'll learn to associate words with concepts. (Source:

The report also noted some concerns about excessive screen time in young kids affecting sleep patterns or increasing the risk of obesity. However, the associated studies have been limited in reliability as, understandably, researchers haven't used control groups and then deliberately had some kids use gadgets for particularly long periods, similar to what might happen in a study of adults.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you have kids or grandkids who use screen-based gadgets? What do you make of the advice? Is it helpful to get such guidelines?

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Dennis Faas's picture

The idea of a screen-free room may be difficult to implement especially if the device being used is mobile and is connected to a wireless Internet.

That said, we recently had an issue with our 6 year old finding clips of movies on Youtube that were not appropriate for her age, though when we tried to view those clips, Youtube reported that they were removed. Whether or not she actually saw the clips is not certain. We later disabled Youtube from the app settings and only left Youtube for Kids active, though doing so was not intuitive. There is apparently no way to remove the Youtube app.

Anyone else who has young kids and tablets is welcome to chime in what they use to lock down the devices to make them kid friendly.