What are pre-schoolers doing with tablets and is it good for them? (A response)

iza-jarosBy Izabela Jaros, Jan Kochanowski University, Poland

The post “What are pre-schoolers doing with tablets and is it good for them?” focuses on a phenomenon that can be observed all over the world nowadays, namely the use of tablets by the very young.  I read the text with a great interest and would like to share some information concerning tablet use by children under the age of 6 in Poland.

Both access and frequency of use of mobile devices, especially among the youngest users, are increasing rapidly, regardless of the country. This mobile trend has been researched and key findings well documented in recent American or British reports, e.g. “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America”, Exploring Play and Creativity in Pre-Schoolers’ Use of Apps” or “Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report”.  Such documents provide crucial data concerning the types of mobile devices children have access to, the amount of time spent using them, kind of content and forms of activities children do on tablets/smartphones, the use of devices for educational purposes, the differences in this area resulted from  socioeconomic status of the family, specific characteristics of the apps for various age groups, potential threats and benefits of mobile technology for children development, parental assistance  – just to mention a few research areas.

In Poland two reports, focusing on similar research questions, have been published recently. The first one, issued in 2014,  is entitled “Szanse i zagrożenia w obszarze wykorzystania technologii informacyjno-komunikacyjnych (TIK), ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem aplikacji mobilnych (TIK-mobApp) przez dzieci w wieku 3-6 lat” (title in English: “Benefits and Threats in the Area of the Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), including mobile apps (ICT-mobAPP) in Particular by Children Aged 3-6”). As the title suggests the authors: J. Pyżalski, M. Klichowski and M. Przybyła discuss thoroughly both possible beneficial and harmful impacts of mobile technology on pre-school children’s development. They concentrate on such areas of development as cognitive, emotional, motor, social and health. Another interesting aspect presented in the document is a typology of apps, according to their aims. The list embraces, among others,  such categories as: communication by means of shapes, colours, images and symbols, communication by means of speech (words, word formation, sentence building, storytelling) and script (letters, words, sentences), creating pictures (drawing, colouring), taking photos, making films, role playing (imitating patterns of behaviour), supporting physical movement (dancing, running, doing gymnastics), construction, building, matching or supporting special educational needs (SEN).

The other report “The Use of Mobile Devices by Young Children in Poland” was published in 2015 by Nobody’s Children Foundation. The online research was carried out by the research agency Millward Brown S.A. 1011 surveys from  parents of children aged 6 months – 6.5 years were received.  In the report, detailed evidence is provided on mobile media access and use by very young children.  Moreover, findings regarding parental assistance and views about their children’s media use are included in the document. The main research outcomes are as follows:

  • 64% of children 6 m – 6.5 years old use mobile devices.
  • 25% of the researched sample use mobile media on a daily basis.
  • 26% of children have their own mobile devices.
  • 79% of children use their tablets or smartphone to watch videos.
  • 62% of children play games or use apps on their devices.
  • Children spend about 1 hour on mobile devices at a time.
  • 69% of parents let their children use mobile devices in order to gain time for doing their own tasks.
  • 49% of parents allow their children to use tablets or smartphones as a reward.
  • 62% of parents always or almost always accompany their children using mobile devices, 35% of parents sometimes assist their children.

The research results clearly show that Polish children, like their peers from other countries, are growing up in mobile media environments.

More key statistics are available in the report:

http://www.mamatatatablet.pl/pliki/uploads/2015/11/Korzystanie_z_urzadzen_mobilnych_raport_final.pdf

In 2015, the same foundation launched a campaign entitled “Homo Tabletis” (http://homotabletis.org/en/campaign/). The main aims of this initiative are as follows:

  • to raise awareness among parents of children aged 0-6,
  • to warn against uncontrolled use of tablets or smartphones by youngest children,
  • to inform about ways of using mobile devices for the benefit of children’s development.

One of the key actions of the campaign was the creation of an animated spot presenting the emergence of  a new species of humans, namely ‘Homo tabletis’.  In the spot, the potential threats of introducing tablets to young child’s life are highlighted. The authors of the spot claim that in the upbringing process, tablets become a substitute for biological parents. It is difficult not to agree with such a statement. Tablets are often given to children to calm them down or keep them busy so that parents can concentrate on their own tasks or even eat a meal in the peace and quiet. Tablets can be perceived as a kind of excuse for parents or caregivers for lack of time to spend together and/or appropriate rapport with their children. Children acquire the ability to skillfully operate a touch screen almost in no time what is admired by parents. However, initial admiration gradually turns into despair, caused by lack of interest, on a child’s part, in the surrounding world. The brain receives mainly the images and sounds made artificially by a machine, instead of receiving a variety of stimuli and involving all the senses. One of the consequences of such inappropriate tablet exposure is a limited amount of neural connections formed in the brain, which leads to other limitations in pre-school or school life, including hindering memory, abstract thinking or reading and writing skills. Lack of contacts with real peers/people may lead to problems with developing proper social relationships and even solitude in adulthood. Therefore, the main message for parents is not to let children under the age of 2 have access to display devices, such as tablets or smartphones – what is in line with the recommendations of  the American Academy of Pediatrics. When parents decide to allow children to use mobile devices, they have to do it responsibly. It means that they should follow the following advice:

  • always accompany their children starting to use such devices,
  • the amount of exposure time should not exceed 15 minutes at a time and 30 minutes a day,
  • children should not have access to tablets every day,
  • the content must be checked by parents and appropriate for children at a given age,
  • children must not use tablets before sleep.

It is emphasized in the spot that too early and too intensive tablet exposure can have a negative impact onto a child’s development. However, age-appropriate content, provided under parental supervision and during limited sessions can be beneficial for young children.

To sum up, science has not delivered enough evidence with regard to the influence of mobile technology onto children’s development. Still there are more questions and speculations than answers concerning both the potential risks as well as benefits for young children.  However, this issue is of interest to various parties – parents, early years teachers, teacher trainers, policymakers, the children’s media industry and needs to be widely discussed and extensively researched. This blog is a perfect space for sharing knowledge in this area.

More information can be found at:

http://www.mamatatatablet.pl/pliki/uploads/2015/11/Korzystanie_z_urzadzen_mobilnych_raport_final.pdf

 

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