If there's one toy guaranteed to captivate toddlers this Christmas, it's the iPad. What's more appealing to a tot than blinking lights, fun sounds and touch screens that allow them to move things with the swipe of a tiny, sticky finger?
A 2011 survey of parents by Common Sense Media, an American organisation that provides media education for families, found that 39 per cent of 2-to-4-year-olds have used digital media such as smartphones and iPads. James Steyer, chief executive and founder of the group, is confident that number has risen in the past year.
To make things easier on parents, children and the iPad itself, Fisher-Price has a line of iPad and iPod protectors. For example, the "Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case," which comes with an attached rattle, is said to guard against "baby's dribbles & drool; teething; and unwanted pressing of home button". There's also the "iGuy", a free-standing case made of tantrum-proof foam.
But Steyer has stern advice for adults considering buying toddlers their very own iPads this Christmas: "No. Ridiculous idea."
Among parents and experts, the idea of giving a toddler an iPad is a fraught subject. There are some obvious drawbacks. For one thing, they're expensive -starting at $539 for the most recent version. They're also fragile. But the science on how the iPad affects young children isn't yet clear, and while some experts see them as developmentally inappropriate, others see some benefits to the technology - and not just in keeping a parent's sanity (if not guilt) in check.
The iPad has only been around only since 2010, so there hasn't been enough time to observe its long-term effects on kids, according to Michael Rich, director of the Cenre on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston.
Rich, who runs the online advice column Ask the Mediatrician, says that apps on iPads and smartphones are limited as teaching tools since they typically focus on one type of learning - "skills and drills", which teach children to correctly identify the ABCs or to moo when they see a cow on the screen.
"What's more important at this age is learning how to learn rather than mimicking something," Rich says.
Moreover, studies show that children don't learn anything substantial, such as language, from screens - television, iPads, computers - until 30 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on any form of screen time until their children are 2.
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