As an occupational therapist, I have a love/hate relationship with the iPad.I love them as a cheap (well, cheaper) form of alternative communication for nonverbal children. I hate them as toys. Now before you get images of a crotchety old lady waving her cane and complaining about technology and “kids these days”, keep in mind that I’m a millennial. While I didn’t grow up with smart phones and iPads, my generation thrived on video games. As a kid, I hated that my mom never let us have video games. As an adult, I can’t thank her enough. Video games, iPads, smart phones….they’re all in the same boat in terms of how they impact a child’s development. Now do I think that the occasional game on an iPad is going to hurt a child? Of course not! The problem arises when these devices become a child’s primary plaything, especially during the preschool age when the brain is undergoing rapid development. Now I’m not trying to tell you how to parent. You know your children best and how they react to technology. I’m also not telling you to throw out the iPad and ban technology altogether. The key words here are moderation and balance. It’s fine to let your child play on an iPad once in a while, but kids also need good, old-fashioned regular toys. Here’s why:
- Life Skills and Milestones. Play is so important for a child’s proper development. Through play, children develop their fine and gross motor skills, visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, postural control, social skills, imagination/cognitive development, sensory processing abilities, and an understanding of how the world works.
- Movement. Physical play outside is a great form of exercise for a healthy body and mind. Kids need to move! When children sit down and play on the iPad all day, they’re not developing their motor skills, postural control, and sensory processing skills. Because their core strength is so underdeveloped, they often sit with bad posture, straining their back and neck.
- Cognitive Development. Many iPad games require little to no imagination, hindering the formation of creativity and independent thought.
- Social skills. Most of the time, children playing on the iPad are playing alone and not developing social interaction skills such as cooperation, sharing, empathy, and the ability to hold a conversation. Sometimes kids play games where they can chat with other players, but this form of communication is artificial and often shallow. Without direct, face-to-face interaction, children are not learning to interpret nonverbal communication and how to hold a deep, meaningful conversation.
- Patience. I get it. Bored kids can throw tantrums and create scenes in public places. Many parents like to use technology as a way to calm their children and keep them quiet. For this situation, I’ll let you use your discretion as a parent. Like I said before, you know your children best, and sometimes giving a child technology to cope feels like the only way to keep you, your child, and the overall situation sane. You also have to keep in mind what’s age appropriate. A child in elementary school is old enough to start learning how to wait and be patient. However, you can’t expect this of a toddler or young preschooler. So for small children, try using alternative forms of entertainment. Maybe your child can fidget with a small toy or look at a small picture book. You could also try playing games with your preschooler, such as “I spy.”
- Visual Motor Skills. iPads are bad for visual motor skills. When children play with iPads, they use their index finger to move the screen instead of moving their eyes. My mother is an early interventionist and I’ll never forget a story she once told me. She once evaluated a 2 year-old who played on the iPad all day instead of regular toys. She placed a box in front of the little girl and told her to find the doll in the box. The little girl just stared directly down and couldn’t find the doll. She was used to using her finger to move the screen around and didn’t know how to scan with her eyes! In order to help the child find the doll, my mom had to actually place her own finger in the child’s visual field and move her finger to the doll. Only then was the little girl able to follow my mom’s finger and find the toy.
iPads, video games, smart phones aren’t evil. The world around us is becoming more technologically advanced every minute, so I do think that children need to be exposed to technology to keep up with today’s world. Just keep in mind, though, that there’s more to life than technology!
Thanks for reading!
Lauren A, MS OTR/L