More on Toddlers, Touchscreens and Learning

More on Toddlers, Touchscreens and Learning

Lisa Guernsey, author of the above-linked article and Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, directs readers to a cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine titled The Touch-Screen Generation, by writer Hanna Rosin.  Guernsey tells us “the article describes how many middle-class parents feel “pinched,” caught between being dazzled by the multitude of easy-to-use apps that engage even very young children and fearful that too much time with these screen-based devices could spell harm.”  She quotes a piece of Rosin’s article, which Guernsey describes as “well worth the read,” and tells us that Rosin writes from “first-hand experience about what it is like to raise a child in today’s middle-to-upper-income households.”  Here is the snippet Guernsey shares with readers:

Not that long ago, there was only the television, which theoretically could be kept in the parents’ bedroom or locked behind a cabinet. Now there are smartphones and iPads, which wash up in the domestic clutter alongside keys and gum and stray hair ties. “Mom, everyone has technology but me!” my 4-year-old son sometimes wails. And why shouldn’t he feel entitled? In the same span of time it took him to learn how to say that sentence, thousands of kids’ apps have been developed—the majority aimed at preschoolers like him. To us (his parents, I mean), American childhood has undergone a somewhat alarming transformation in a very short time. But to him, it has always been possible to do so many things with the swipe of a finger, to have hundreds of games packed into a gadget the same size as Goodnight Moon.

Guernsey goes on in her article to refer readers to the March issue of the ZERO TO THREE journal.  The entire volume was devoted to “Media and Technology in the Lives of Infants and Toddlers.”  She wrote one of the pieces in the volume, focusing on the question of how electronic media may be affecting language development, especially for 2 year olds.  In her article, she uses “data and insights from about 20 peer-reviewed studies on how electronic media affects children’s word learning and other aspects of language development.”  Guernsey reminds readers that the ZERO TO THREE article is only available to subscribers, but she kindly includes some of her insights, from her standpoint as a mother and researcher, in bulleted format in the above-linked article.  

Guernsey also shares with us some conclusions drawn by The other articles in the ZERO TO THREE journal, including one titled “Toddlers and Touch Screens,” written by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Hollins University, which examines the thin but growing base of research on touchscreens with such young children.  In this particular piece, researchers noted that “interactive screens do hold potential for early learning.”

Personally, I think touchscreen technology gives infants and toddlers an excellent opportunity to develop multi-sensory processing and speech and language skills that many toys cannot even begin to touch on (no pun intended!). Touchscreen devices require that children look, listen and do to be successful with the device, use an isolated finger to point to the screen (an important but often overlooked developmental skill with regard to communication), remember how to play from time to time the device is used, as well as countless other skills that translate directly to school readiness success in the classroom.  

My little guy Sam, who is now nearly 39 months and began using my iPhone around 7-8 months of age and my iPad at 30 months, presents with amazing multi-sensory processing and communication skills.  As my fifth child, I can only compare him to my other 4 children (none of them had touchscreen devices available to them from birth to 3 years old) and to  other children whom I know do or don’t use touchscreen technology to the level that he has and does.  Of course, he balances his screen time with many other activities and toys as well as has his personal temperament, genetics and cultural influences at play (again, no pun intended!), but in my 17 years as a parent and 20 years as a speech-language pathologist I have not seen many other children develop as he has.  In my opinion, Sam’s use of touchscreen technology has only aided, not deterred, his astonishing development.


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