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Thu, Dec 19, 2013
The Straits Times
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Some unanswered questions

The production of an infant seat with an iPad holder is hardly surprising, given the growing number of apps pitched at infants and toddlers ("iPad seat for babies draws flak"; last Thursday).

But apart from the recommendation by the American Academy of Paediatrics to avoid "screen time" for children below the age of two, little is known about how early exposure to electronic media affects a child's physical, mental and social development.

The portability and affordability of iPads and smartphones make it ever easier for caregivers to use these devices to keep children occupied.

I know of growing numbers of children who are so addicted that they demand their favourite games upon waking up, and throw tantrums when deprived of their gadgets. Some cannot even sit down for a meal without a screen to occupy them.

Some important unanswered questions are:

1. What is the optimum age at which to introduce such devices to children, and how much screen time is recommended for children at different ages?

2. Does screen time at a young age predispose children to electronic media addiction? Are interactive apps more addictive than traditional media such as television?

3. How does interaction with a flat touch-screen affect the development of a child's growing brain, gross- and fine-motor skills, and spatial ability?

4. What is the impact on a child's ability to interact with family and friends, and to exercise "soft skills" like empathy, which are vital to the development of interpersonal relationships?

5. Does the immediate gratification offered by apps affect a child's impulse control, attention span and ability to work independently without external rewards? My son's pre-school teachers have noticed that children exposed to electronic media have more difficulty concentrating in class.

6. What types of apps truly help a child's development? One simply cannot rely on only manufacturers' claims.

Computers and apps are an inextricable part of modern life and do have their uses. Hence, child development researchers here must study these issues to help parents and caregivers make informed choices about how and when to introduce them to their children.

Estella Young (Ms)

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readers' comments
Sheesh, I'll never let my boy get near an ipad even at that age...
Posted by LouisEcel74 on Thu, 19 Dec 2013 at 17:42 PM

I started my daughter on the PC at about 2 1/2...I got a tracker ball instead of a mouse which she could not handle at her age. Plenty of Sesame Street...Didn't like what the show on TV...Simply too many advertisements....
Posted by kooldog59 on Thu, 19 Dec 2013 at 17:09 PM
Well the youngest I had ever seen being fed with a tablet at a food court was 18 months.
Posted by mystrawberry on Thu, 19 Dec 2013 at 15:09 PM

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