Touchscreens and Toddlers


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The average American two-year-old spends two hours a day in front of a screen, whether it’s a television, computer, smartphone, or tablet. A new report by early learning experts says it’s not just the amount of screen time, but the way that time is spent that’s most important.

Two-year-old Adam Wengraitis is always on the move.

“He is very physical,” said Amy Sussman, Adam’s mother.

He is also curious about everything he can get his hands on. Which is one reason Adam’s mom was hesitant, at first, to introduce electronics.

Sussman detailed, “We were afraid that once it starts he would never want to put the device down, but  I can see a lot of benefits.”

Rachel Barr, PhD, is a Georgetown University developmental psychologist and an expert in learning and memory in young children. She says touchscreens provide significant opportunity for learning.

“We need to help them bring that information into the real world,” Barr told Ivanhoe.

Barr studied 50 15-month-old infants and their mothers. The moms were given a real object, something like a rattle, and an image of that object on a touchscreen. The moms had five minutes to teach their babies that the toy worked in real life, the same way it worked on the touchscreen tablet.

Barr found that children were 19 times more likely to succeed if an adult was helping them make that connection.

Joscelin Rocha-Hidalgo works on The Early Learning Project with Barr at Georgetown University. Rocha-Hidalgo stressed  that it is important to interact with the child using the media.

Barr said that it is important for parents to help their children learn from touchscreens and treat them like books.

“When they are reading books they don’t really expect their children to read by themselves and figure out the content by themselves,” said Barr.

Professor Barr advises parents to think of the three “C’s” when it comes to tablet and other media use: the Child’s age, the Content they are watching, and the Context.  Barr said to help children learn from media share the experience with them.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.