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Young children and high technology. What happens when toddlers take to iPads?

What happens when toddlers take to iPads? (S_Ishimaru/Flickr)

What happens when toddlers take to iPads? (S_Ishimaru/Flickr)

There’s a new babysitter, teacher, toy and pacifier in toddler town. And it’s the iPad. The smartphone. The closest high-tech touch-screen gizmo that a parent can hand to a child. Toddlers are the new touchscreen aficionados.

Hand them an iPad, and they’re on it like glue. A smartphone, and they get “Angry Birds” in an instant. One year old. Two.

And given a chance they’re all over the technology. Some parents see it as a miracle learning tool and governess. Mary Poppins in a box. Others as a pacifier. What’s it doing to their brains?

This hour, On Point: What happens when toddlers take to iPads?

-Tom Ashbrook


Michael Rich, a “mediatrician” and director of the Center on Media and Child Health.

James Steyer, CEO and Founder Common Sense Media.

From Tom’s Reading List

Wall Street Journal “Kids for years have sat too close to the television for too long or played hours of Madden on family room game players. But pediatric neuroscientists and researchers who have studied the effects of screen-time on children suggest the iPad is a different beast.”

Slate “No more plopping preschoolers in front of videos to “zone out.” With the emergence of touchscreen tablets and e-readers, screen time has become interactive—and thus less guilt-inducing for parents who need a short break. Every purposeful swipe of our children’s fingers seems to offer a reassuring signal that their minds are at work, contemplating what to do next.”


Check out this video of a young child interfacing with paper technology.

Photo: “Apptivity Case”

This iPhone case comes from the Fisher Price company.

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  • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

    computers strain vision, what effect will this have on the little ones eyes? 
    future hoards of myopics?

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Good point. Although reading books strains vision too. 

      It’s a matter of how much time one spends doing one thing at one focal length. Too much time in front of a book or a computer or tying flies or any close up work strains vision.

      The problem with smartphones and tablets is that they’re general purpose tools that get used for a lot of other stuff besides reading books and/or playing games (educational or otherwise) and in time, you’re right, too much time is spent in close focus because doing anything with these tools requires close focus.

      Best to mix it up, some time with gizmo, some time playing with blocks, some time in sandbox.

      • TFRX

        Another difference between a book and content on a screen is that one can just sit there and veg out and stare at a screen. The eyes will try to focus; it seems a natural, almost automatic thing to do which one has to consciously stop doing. The content is there, flowing past the observer.

        When reading something which one turns pages on at one’s own pace, it’s different. If I’m too tired to continue reading my book, and I spend five minutes at the same page without cogitating the info, I get the idea that I’m too tired to read, and close the book. (Or Kindle, I guess, except I don’t have one.)

        • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

          I respectfully disagree, and I have a kindle, an iPad, an iPhone and lots of other old attempts at small electronic educational tools. You can be passive or active with an analog book as well as a gadget. You can control page turning, vegging, etc. with each.

          What you can do easily with a gadget, say, an iPad and iBooks is control the size of type, the typeface, the background color and contrast, and more. And, you can have the book read to you, look words you don’t know up in a built in dictionary, take notes in the margin without destroying the book, and a lot more.

    • TFRX

      Tangent: Remember how the future will be controlled by holographic 3D computer interfaces floating in the air? (Minority Report is foremost as a reference.)

      To my untrained eye that promises all sorts of neck and shoulder repetitive stress injuries which will make ordinary keyboard-based carpal tunnel seem like hangnails.

  • L. M. Lim

    You need to talk to Ann Densmore, author of “Your Successful Toddler,” and see this link.


    She provides parents guidance on how to evaluate screen-based games for young children.

  • AC

    i wonder what happens to children who don’t have access to these technologies? isn’t that a more important question? i can only think this is an advantage and some will not have it…..

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Since we’re on a Star Trek theme today, we need to find a way to resist the Borg.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    What about their interaction with the rest of the world?
        Communications skills?
        More violent or less violent average?
        Interest in other, non-electronic toys?
        Increase of injuries from trying to imitate characters?

    ANY preliminary studies?  Where?

  • mike in pa

    I cringed when I saw this topic for today’s show!  My wife and I have allowed our soon-to-be two year old daughter to interact with her ipad for months now.  We have really seen our daughter really improve in dexterity (due to manipulating the touch screen) and basic identification of letters, numbers, matching, and names.  We try, TRY, to keep it limited to 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before bed, unless it’s rainy day and we’ve gone through her endless array of books fifteen times over.  It is also a saving grace for those last fifteen minutes of being out-to-dinner while we are trying to patiently wait for the bill and have already given our daughter many tours of the restaurant, both inside and out.
    A few things, I would advise of parents entertaining this idea:
    (1) the ipad is not a substitute for books and blocks.  you don’t want to skip over the important development of being able to imagine for oneself.
    (2) follow patience proficiency, i.e. our daughter is still pretty good at sitting through an hour long church service.
    (3) be very, very careful and selective about what applications you choose.  Forget the fake reviews and ask your friends or helpful parenting websites.  Our daughter loves the letter and music games and the touch a picture-make-a-noise apps, e.g. you touch a picture of a train and it makes a train noise, touch a lion and it makes a lion noise.
    (4) finally and most importantly, get outside and explore!  An hour long walk splashing in puddles, catching snow, blowing bubbles, smelling flowers, blowing dandelions, touching different plants and trees, and pointing out animals and bugs is infinitely wonderful.
    I don’t believe that there is any absolute advantage one child who uses an ipad will have over another child who is sans ipad.  Nothing beats the basic framework of undivided love and attention.
    One question I do have is: is there any danger to allowing our daughter to sit with the ipad on her lap?  I.e., dangerous emissions from the ipad, wireless, etc.?  Kiddingly, do we need to wrap the ipad in tin-foil?

    • superfinehelios

      Good advice. But I’d put #4 first. 

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      I’m not sure I agree with this and I have an 11 year old granddaughter who has had an iPad for a few years now.

      She still reads and loves analog books but also likes reading books on the iPad with iBooks. She plays games on her iPad but also is a member of a gymnastics club and spends a lot of time doing physical activity every day. She does both and moves easily back and forth between the two.

      There is no problem with the iPad in a lap, child or adult. No emissions from screen or battery and the mild heat of the iPad 3 once in a while won’t be an issue.

  • Victor Vito

    Not all that long ago, I came upon my two year old with my wife’s i-pad.  She turned it on, and managed to find and play an episode of her favorite cartoon.  I had no idea she could do this.  I was simoultaneously tickled and afraid.  My children, in short order, will leave me in the technological dust.

  • peterossetti

    What would we do, I guess, if we didn’t have yet another show touting the wonders of smartphone/ipad-like devices?  Ho-hum. Tom, this is getting to be a regular thing.  Not even tuning in today.  Sorry.

  • Kiep99

    What a waste.   We already know from other studies that learning penmanship, then learning to type is both more educational and helps the young organize information.

    Another “headlline”  flop show.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      The headline is the Question? 

  • Irv West

    Put the kids in front of screens at an earlier and earlier age, then we can do more shows about obesity in our young. Also, as someone who works with troubled youth, I will have more kids to turn on to the wonder of nature, to physical activity . . . for the first time.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    If toddlers can get this technology, doesn’t that say what level of maturity the technology operates on?

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Are they indeed Lab Rats?

    A study not too long ago linked the important role of play between children in development and in particular socialization and how the lack of if was always found in serial killers.

    What kind of handicap will parents be burdening their children with jacking them into skynet?

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Strong with Sci Fi references, this discussion is.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        This Science, is the Sci Fi of five years ago, and more?

  • Khjacobs

    I have serious concrns over children (and adults) being exposed to electro magnetic energy which is a type of radiation!!!!!!!!!!!

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp


  • Ellen Dibble

    So what is the best children’s literature created specifically for I-pads?  I was thinking of trying to do this, noticing the quality was nowhere near the quality of printed literature, and then immediately the genre went Disney, as I call it, requiring a sort of studio to put it in effect, with programmers able to build in more interactivity than just whether it turns a page or not, whether it shows the printed words or not, whether it reads aloud or not.
        Who are the App publishers who are looking for this sort of thing?  Where should I be looking?

  • Ray in VT

    My kids have used the Nook, the Leapster and the Nintendo DS, and it is amazing how quickly they have been able to pick up these devices and intuitively used them.  We mostly limit their usage to educational games/applications, and we have found that they have helped our 3 year old become an early writer.

    • Ray in VT

      Also having said that, we are book people, so devices are secondary to books in our house.

  • superfinehelios

    It’ll be funny to see one of these toddlers in the future trying to touch every screen they see when they get older….ouch…gonna pickup a lot of colds.

  • AC

    my brother laughed at me when while showing me a pic on his camera i kept dbl tapping it, expecting it to get larger….:P

  • Reagan

    This is one of our favorite BOOKS Tom, cracks us up. This girl delivers it well, watch it, you will laugh. It is called, “It’s a Book.” 

    • Reagan

      (Outside Boston)

  • Jessmesser

    does this not count as “screen time”? i was under the impression that the American Council on Pediatrics recommended limiting kids’ screen time, it creeps me out to see kids staring at screens all day…

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      Yeah it creeps me out that I spend my whole day staring at screens, I would never want to subject my kids to the eye strain.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The job of parents has changed over time.  It used to be that the parent taught the child whatever trade the parent had.  Then came child labor in factories.  Next was the modern idea of a sacred childhood.  Now we absorb our young into the collective.  Nu?

  • RolloMartins

    These apps are the Happy Meals of software. Where is the proof they improve learning? Where is the proof any of this tech stuff helps at all? 

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me a child sitting in a car for hours on end used to sing songs with the parents or sit and count cows.  The idea a child can manage an IPad during those times is a big boost.  If it works right, the parent will know what the child is watching, and just as a child will recite a story while a parent reads it — both know it by heart — with an IPad, the parent will recite as the child see it, also because of knowing it by heart.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      MANY mis-leading ‘children apps’ ALREADY!  Some VERY BAD ones on!

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        …and many crap children’s books too. Crap isn’t isolated to “apps” it’s everywhere.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Who are these that are being evaluated?  Besides PBS’s Martha Speaks (which is probably created in-house)?

  • Georgetown Forgiones

    Our daughter turns 2 in July. My husband and I watch minimal TV, use our computer strictly as a tool, and tend to be basically more “old-fashioned” in our style of living. Several friends have given her Leap Frog type gadgets, a musical activity table, etc. She gets bored with most of these electronic items. She will go for her blocks, stacking buckets, books or puzzles before these other items, and often she doesn’t even show an interest in those electronic items to begin with.

    I think she will be exposed to technology soon enough. For now, we want her to focus on spatial relationships, cause and effect, developing her imagination and learning to entertain herself, rather than pushing buttons, swiping iPads, watching videos in the car or BEING entertained. I think too many parents use their electronica as baby sitters and feel they are “educating” their children without having to put in much effort or interaction themselves.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-militello/a/486/ab6 Lkmilitello

    Health care professional here — think there is also a gap in primary care provider awareness and ability to help parents with anticipatory guidance.  AAP simply states less than 2 hours of screen time..but much much more complex.  spoke about it at NAPNAP last year — a lot of question answering and question generating…..thanks for doing a great job CSM AND CMCH!!!

  • Ellen Dibble

    If a child is watching something that the parent can participate in too, not a “shut-up” toy, then it has to have enough heft that it merits revisiting by both child and parent/adult.
        We know about children’s books, how it may take a year to develop the words and plot and images that grab both parent and child over and over and over.  Right now, it doesn’t seem anyone is interested in that sort of thing, the statuary of I-apps, the permanent and memorable pieces.  Right?

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    First, there is no way I would leave an iPad in arms reach of a baby.  Maybe ya’ll are rich enough to buy new ones every other week, but I’m not.

    I have no trouble with exposing kids to these technologies in moderation, but I can’t help but think that putting the baby in a play pen with those old wooden puzzle and block type toys would be better for the child’s brain development.  And if you could do that with another baby that would be even better.

  • Dave P

    There are advantages of the I devices. There are no discs to lose or scratch, they can help keep a child entertained at a doctors office and not worry about the shots that will soon come at the end of the visit. Also there are no commercials!

    • Boston mom

       Reading a book to the child while waiting for the doctor has worked for me with 2 kids!

  • Khjacobs

    For Greg Camp and others..health problems to begin with, read down to computer section

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Try reading reliable sources.  The electromagnetic field of an iPad or so forth isn’t strong enough to cause damage.

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        Agreed. The only piece we might take issue with is iPads that have 3G or 4G radios in them. I’m not sure there’s a problem with these either but there is a movement to keep kids away from wifi and cellular radios. I’m not supporting it, just that it exists.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           I had a shortwave radio with vacuum tubes as a child.  I imagine that it was throwing off a lot of EM fields.

          • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

            I had same. No doubt the radiation has from those tubes did something but I’m still trying to figure out what. It heated my room nicely.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             Mine was a Hammerlund.  These days, I can listen to radio from around the world on-line, but there was a special quality to watching those vacuum tubes glow and hearing the ionosphere waver.

  • Mom of 2

    I am a parent of a 1 year old and a 3 year old. I feel these are very helpful parenting tools, when used in moderation. We use a I-Pod touch with both our children probably for a cumulative hour a week. They aren’t too savy with it, but it enables us to change the toddlers diaper really quickly and helped potty train our daughter by letting her play with it as she sat and waited. However, I have seen them abused and used too often. I agree children should learn how to learn and how to use thier imagination at this point in time, but sometimes you need to take advantage of what is availble to you in a pinch as well.

  • BHA in Vermont

    I would think an interactive app on an iPad would be better than yet another hour watching (insert your kids favorite Disney film here) for the 20th time.

    I kind of like the concept of a “shut up” toy at restaurants. Kids were not designed to sit at a table, wait to order, wait for the food to come.  :)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       I enjoy eating in a restaurant without having to listen to squalling children, so a shut-up toy sounds good to me in that context.

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        I agree, but I also like to sit in waiting rooms without having to listen to adults squalling on their cell phones. Rudeness is rudeness up and down the lifespan.

        Parents who use iPads and iPhones to keep kids busy need to carry earbuds and/or headphones so the rest of us aren’t annoyed by the sound of the game or whatever it is the kid is messing with.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m pretty sure a parent could read to a child off an I-pad just the way an adult can read to him or herself off a Kindle or Nook. It’s cheaper than buying the book.  Last I looked, it was a dollar per book on App.

  • Hometree1

    My five year old daughter, who has autism, has benefited from LIMITED use of her iPad. We read lots of real books and find book related apps to extend her involvement. The iPad has elliminated some barriers for her, BUT she really needs lots of interaction with people and nature more than technology. She also had kidney cancer in 2010 and the iPad has helped enormously to distract during difficult medical tests.

  • Pabeau

    can one of the guests duscuss the Nature Deficit psrt of kidd on all technology, paul b. e. greenwich ri.?

  • Cara

    Electronic gadgetry should be used very sparingly with young children, and should not be the “go-to” first choice for engaging your child.  Time spent face-to-face with a screen is time not spent face-to-face with another human being.   Books are made to be enjoyed by parents and children together. There is no reason you can’t read to your child in a restaurant, plane, or waiting area. . .I did that with my kids, and often found other people’s children crowding around to hear the story,too.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Well, some of us like quiet in a restaurant or a waiting room.

      • Cara

        Is a parent reading quietly to a child any more disruptive than electronic music and sound effects?

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          No more, but no less.

          • Cara

            Interesting; I find human voices are much less distracting and annoying than electronic noises, music, etc. But then again, I’m old fashioned.   

            The bottom line is that if children feel their parents are tuning them out, they’re going to be as loud as they have to be to get their attention.  When mom/dad is reading to you, you’ve got his/her attention.

      • Georgetown Forgiones

        So, I take it that you are definitely in the “it’s convenient, so go with it” camp, regardless of the potential long term effects.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           I just think that we need to teach decorum to all generations.

          • Cara

            seen but not heard?

  • Annross80

    One difference between tv and the iPad is the social difference. After watching a tv show, my kids will play what they watched… Play the characters, play the drama, pretend some of the themes of the show. After playing computer games, including the iPad, it takes awhile before their creativity back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/manuel.avellan1 Manuel Avellan

    POPICOCK , Technology is here to stay, I no longer get bored when I’m waiting because I have a pad, or phone. Learning and reading comes from everywhere. If my kids had a dog they would play with them, when friends come over they play with them. Limit is set by them, when they get bored they go to something else. I use to watch hours and hours of TV, and yet my brain did not rot,and I had no problems socializing, but I do and did have trouble with Pseudo Experts that say limit this and limit that.

  • Wl_fu

    We limit how much our kids can use the iPad because we likes the more traditional education approach, e.g. unstructured free play, outside time etc.  However, what I find great about iPad is that I can easily find educational video (e.g. short animal or nature videos from PBS) that does a much better job explaining how things what than I can ever do verbally.  We found amazing vides on hummingbird, octopus etc.  Recently we watch videos of gymnastics showing how hard the athlete trains for olympic.  We always watch the video with them and never, scarcely leave them alone with the device.

  • Boston mom

    Kids need direct interaction with the real world when their brains are developing. And direct interaction with their parents, who shouldn’t be talking on cell phones or on other technology.

    I would imagine a lot of Asperg-like kids developing if they’re spending more time learning to interact with technology than how to interact with people and the environment.

    My 9-year-old has picked up technology just fine without an IPad or smartphone, etc.


  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     We didn’t study how the invention of writing changed us, nor did we study how the printing press changed us.  Perhaps we worry too much.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      I agree, it’s useful to know how to communicate with a pen, a typewriter, a computer, an iPad, an iPhone and many other things. Morse code may not be all that useful anymore although people who know it (hams) have my respect.

  • Guy

    Tom, what about obesity and sedentary lifestyle, even at that age when. Don’t forget physical activity and brain development are closely related. Fighting evolution is a bad idea!

  • Ellen Dibble

    IT seems to me that ironically adults like me use media to open doors and expand horizons where we cannot otherwise reach, but from the way the conversation is going, the value of art and media to children is that it focuses, it limits; it zeroes in on this or that.  A parent reading to a child is putting a cocoon around that adult and that child, and a kind of centerpiece, the book, but it could be something else.
        An Ipad for a child could, as we hear, deprive of that expanding universe which the child can reach, with all its hugeness and perplexities, by turning AWAY from the Ipad.  It is an interesting paradox.  

    • Georgetown Forgiones

      I think the point is that there is a difference between adults and children. Adults’ brains have already developed, synapses have been constructed. It is a well-established observation that children need limits and boundaries within which to live and learn. It is great that adults are afforded the opportunity to expand their horizons with electronic devices. Children need to establish their basic coping abilities before the world is thrown at them in its entirety. I think it can become too overwhelming to have so very many stimuli for a child. Similar concept to allowing a child to choose between 2 books to read, rather than looking at the bookshelf and saying “pick one of these 30.” Besides, our daughter’s horizons are plenty broad — reading time, independent play, painting, digging in the garden, pretend time with her dolls, dancing to music, singing songs with us, playing with the neighbor’s dog, socialization and learning to share with her friends at day care, etc. etc.

      • Ellen Dibble

        I was trying to think of the way the nondigital world is so overwhelming to a child.  It isn’t all defined for you.  We speak of how a child learns to see, first the mother’s face, then the rest of the world begins to make visual sense.  Children’s artwork sometimes seems to cater to simplifying the visual experience rather than enriching it.  A simple sketch can be very communicative (think of Snoopy and Linus) or not at all so.  I recall cheap children’s books which seemed totally canned.  It seems that is where children’s apps are, in many respects.  
           But I was trying to say that electronic media limit the world for the child, rather than encouraging them to take on board the whole entirety.  What seems boring is actually just beyond comprehension, and the child needs to start to piece it together the way an infant pieces together the visual world.  
             So I’m thinking leaving the digital world is a kind of total unmediated immersion, a vast explosion, because nothing has been pulled out and framed for the child, in terms of sounds, shapes, meanings, etc.  
            Surely the child’s brain creates more neurons when it gets that overexposure, testing it to the limits, whenever possible.  But there should be parents to narrow things down, define, explain.  And there should be art, culture, all those things, whether in handheld device or elsewhere, to offer ways of understanding the vastness.  It shouldn’t limit the child’s own imagination and reason to tune in to the ways the world has already devised.

  • jennifer

    My kids are now 10&12 and I really bought the American Pediatrics recommendations keeping them away from TV until over 2 and not much at all. Are there parallel standard recommendations that are not simply visceral reactions to too much technology? There is no measurement on this stuff– it’s too soon. 
    Also– we avoided xbox or DS, etc. I am frustrated that games have invaded the computer and phone at the same time these have become so much more a part of daily life.
    I am relieved how relatively quaint parenting was in 1999 and 2001. 
    To the point of catching up– I can safely say that both my kids dont seem marked by delay in access to computers or television. BUt I do see they can still play outside for hours without looking for a game telling them what to do next. 

  • Jmd

    It’s important for children to sometimes be bored – that’s the time when they learn to create their own fun

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Upper income parents provide more opportunities in general to their children than lower income parents.  Your point?

  • TFRX

    Multitasking doesn’t exist, per Steyer. I’ve been using the word “microswitching” for a few years.

    Ask anyone who rides a motorcycle (real, not virtual) how quickly they have to shift attention among small, important things. (For that matter, anyone who flies an airplane or helicopter.)

  • Jane

    I am alarmed by this trend because we are only beginning to understand the role of eyesight (and the other senses) in neural development. Daylight affects the circadian rhythm, which in turn affects mood, for example. Limited exposure to sunlight can exacerbate nearsightedness. And the overstimulating visual input from a screen affects the development of attention. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580405767 Tony Dollars

    In my past life of a pre-school 3 and 4 year old teacher, comparing then with now. In 1994 we would welcome students in class with computers, but their time would be scheduled and limited. The digital tools will be important for future growth paired with real life learning. A process I personal developed for my students was to partner learning with as many tools as possible, such as being introduced to physical cut out letters and numbers, and at other times of the day called to interact with digital letters and numbers. Parents, and well as the principal would accelerated learning results. Part of my practice was to contact parents and have them participate in the learning process at home with the child, which caused more child to parent communication strengthening family ties and childhood intellectual growth.

  • Ben Kahn

    My wife and I consider smart-phones, computers, and tablets to be all the same — screen time. For our first child, we kept all screens away until he was older than two. Our second child was harder since his older brother was already watching some TV.

    We use a “token” system to limit screen time now. Each child gets 16 tokens a week. (Each child has a different color.) Each token is worth 30 minutes of screen time. At times when a screen is appropriate (not at school or preschool, not at dinner, no chores or homework….) they are allowed to spend a token and pick their “screen-time” activity.

    This allows the kids to control their own play. We can also track how much screen time the kids have been using.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Nobody is thinking of something that gravitates intergenerational minds like Make Way for the Ducklings, something that becomes a shared tool for growth.  I know there is a different kind of writing for things that have one screen at a time, or where you could use multiple directions from any page.  But where are the geniuses who are coming up with must-see literature?  Where is the Babar of the i-phone, the author, the agent, the publisher?

  • Dave

    Tom, we have an 8 year old son.  We were concerned about too much screen time at a young age, so we didn’t even let him watch TV for the first two years.  He learned to read at age four and now is an avid reader……..of actual books.  I know small screens are inevitable, but we are trying to postpone those as long as we can.  When he plays with his friends’ Ipads, he is lost in another world.  I can’t pull him away from it.  It’s like a drug.  I’m just glad we set limits early on, during the formative years.

  • Mr Tenk

    My problem with computer learning is the “instant gratification” addiction it enables, and I admit I have noticed how fast I get hooked on it while using educational apps. What will you do when there is no feedback on whether you are right or wrong? How will you have the patience and attention span to work through long problems? Despite the benefits I do find in the apps, you are setting yourself up for impatience, whininess, and frustration!

  • W3PYF

    Our kids are at the bottom of global literacy, science, math and languages, thanks to the abysmal processes of your guests and the rest of the traditional academic community. We may not know what iPads will do to our kids’ brains, but we sure know what a failure their philosophies and techniques have been. I suggest you dedicate the rest of the program to a Jamie Dimond style apology and retraction.

    Mel Snyder, Stoneham, MA

  • liz

    My son, 18 now and graduating this year, goes to a Waldorf school where most technology is avoided until it is considered age appropriate, around high school age.  He had almost no access to a computer, TV or video games until high school age and no face book until he was a sophomore.  I can report that he is absolutely proficient in the use of computers and technology, certainly as proficient as his peers who started much, much earlier.  He never had standardized testing in school and blew his SAT’s out of the water (first time), was accepted w/ significant scholarship into each of the colleges to which he applied.  He is also a brilliant artist and musician.  I think this attests to the fact that kids can go without technology for a good long time without being set back in any way!  

  • Clare

    I pity the poor classroom teachers of the future.  Will these children be able to learn without background music and/or electronic voices being chirpy and cheerful all the time at them?

  • Diana

    Does anyone remember Baby Einstein? It was a highly lucrative consumer product that was marketed and fraudulently labeled “educational”. People used it as an electronic babysitter. All of the same objections against Baby Einstein seem to apply to the IPad in outside-of-school settings where parents don’t limit the screen time.

  • Screamingpalms

    There is serious concern here and that is this: How is this young generation going to perceive the Natural World if they are constantly immersed in the “Virtual.” Will they share the same concerns that we have with the Planet…? Clean Water, Non-GMO food, equality…Compassion ?

    It’s unfortunate that many people seem to this as “inevitable.”

    Nothing is inevitable. Everything is a choice.

    • Nutricj

      I get it and I worry over all the same things. Hey, we hike, bike, canoe, ski and we don’t do any of it without our gps. We read like professors and we have bundles and oodles of choices on just one or two devices. We go to the local museums, but then we use the device to visit the far away one in say Austrailia. We talk to each other at dinner, but when the kids have their alone time, they can listen to their music choices, and not by our demanding- sometimes they pick Metallica, sometimes Taylor Swift, sometimes Simon and Garfunkel, and I sware they often choose Mozart and Beethoven. I loved scratchy albums growing up, but they love their choices. My daughter was in one of her forts in her room tonight, she had a flashlight while she was flipping through and reading aloud from a tinker bell / Peter Pan book, listening to her iPhone playing (omg I am admitting this!) weird Al Yankovich singing “Yoda” (the parody of “Lola” by the Kinks). My son and I were reading an art book I our hands while I had the iPad to look up the suggested museum sites that held the best photos, if not the actual works of the painters (Usborne art books are flippen amazing). I promise you, I am environmentalist,we are avid outdoorsy, we eat clean, live clean….and these technologies add to our lives in dreamy ways. And the kids will see Flow and King Corn and Astra Taylor’s Examined Life when they are ready, probably on Netflix or some other iPad app. I am a tree hugged, granola munching, save your mother earth mommy that unschools….I still embrace the inevitable advancement of tech. Yes, I wish it were kinder to our planet and our humans (waste, no recyclable materials, and the working conditions in China/global human rights), absolutely! But, I look to these devices as another tool, a library in my own hands, if you will…

  • Nutricj

    My son looks up dinosaurs at the Chicago museum of natural history, he is eight. My daughter is six and does 240 piece jigsaw puzzles. They both get their own music onto their phones and love it. Both are excellent typists, both read kindle books aloud to us every night. We love these devices. They also love regular books and regular puzzles and the radio.

    I am a nutritionist and am very dedicated to balance, limits, healthy everything and we spend tons of time outside and we unschool. We get these devices the second they come out and teach the kids, or rather let them teach themselves.

    • Nutricj

      We also have house rules, no phones or iPads at meals, which in our house we eat together two to three times a day. We won’t answer the house phone, the tv is off, except for an occasional movie together. At restaurants my kids get crayons or puzzles- never electronics. But, I am a foodie, so I am big on food appreciation and wine and conversation…

  • marci

    WAIT! You’re talking about keeping our children like US – just as our parents and granparents lamented TV, movies, rock ‘n roll!! We can’t stall them here in the 21st-century!  There world will be so different in 20 years/50 years… I think they should be encouraged to experience the way we grew up – like visiting a re-created 18th-century village was to us – but totally immersed in the IPAD world!! That is what will make them the cutting edge citizens of the future!

  • wayne martin

    Tom, we’re missing the bigger picture.  The iPad is not a problem.  A lack of physical exercise to accompany the iPad would be a problem.  The brain needs both to learn effectively.

  • pjchooch

    This conversation is completely misplaced.  It sounds exactly like the controversy over comic books and Atari.  The problem is not what kids do when their parents are not paying attention to them, the problem is the parents not paying attention to them enough.  Casual use of these devices to totally fine, no better or worse than a comic book.  If you ignore your kids, you will have problems… plain and simple.  It is easier to blame the devices though…

  • Jmpricemd

    What about affects of these devices on the eye? I recently used my iPad extensively while recovering from surgery andnoticed significant changes in my vision (negative images etc). I am concerned that the ypung develoin retina would be very vulnerable.

  • lisa

    I limit my kids’ use of our iPad since I can see how it easily becomes addictive, like anything else. . . but I have found Common Sense Media a very helpful guide for reviewing music, video games, books and movies for my kids, and I’ll be making a donation to them today.

  • nurse

    Good morning,
    I’m an RN in a pediatrician’s office and am appalled at the use of devices as “shut up toys”.  Many kids- of all ages- are not learning the ability to wait, or the ability to communicate.  Parents are not setting good examples, either, as they are sitting right beside their child using a device as well.  The kids often don’t make eye contact, don’t answer direct,simple questions that I ask  and are not communicating w/their parent.  They seem unaware of the situtation they are in and how to behave.

    • Georgetown Forgiones

      I have a 12 year old cousin whose mother has given him hand held devices from toddler-hood. He is literally incapable of carrying on a conversation, making eye contact, or participating in family events except on a very disconnected level. He has no patience, when he does speak he usually interrupts someone, etc. Now, obviously, I am not saying this electronic stuff is solely responsible, but I think if his mother were more engaged with him from an early age, he would not have escaped quite so much into his electronic world and he would be becoming a more functional human being than he is now.

      • Ellen Dibble

        One can grow up without social skills because of overreliance on books, too.  The word was “bookworm,” and suggested lack of socialization for whatever reason.  So the equivalent would be cyberworm?

  • kalimba

    It’s all screen time.
    We’re all addicted at every age. Let’s try to spare the kids for as long as we’re able – and especially until age 2.

    When my 11 y/o was younger and wanted me to get a cell phone – I said to him – look at all those distracted parents – when we’re walking outside you have my full attention. He completely got that.

    • Georgetown Forgiones

      EXCELLENT observation!

  • superfinehelios

    THANK YOU! Teaching a child EARLY that they HAVE to sit still…be patient is correct. Whoever uses a mobile device as a pacifier increases the potential of creating social nightmares.

  • Rex

    Children will not learn how to be bored. It’s something they grow out of. Do you really want your kids yelling and carrying on when they could be learning something. They may not appreciate the learning tool just like they won’t appreciate silence, but it’s a matter of time and growing out of things.

  • Tncanoeguy

    In church when my kids were younger and bored – we would play tic tac toe on the bulletin.  A sin?  Didn’t have ipads then. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       I read books in church as a child.  Of course, the books that I read encouraged me to reject the religion of my parents, but that’s a different question.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    When I was bored as a child, I read a book.  I rarely went anywhere without one, especially if I knew I’d have to wait for something.  I’m not a victim of anxiety, as Beth the psychotherapist worries about.

  • Will

    wow, that last comment summed it up for me.  Child psychiatrists I know echo the notion of an explosion of child insecurity and an inability of many young children to self-sooth and self-regulate themselves.  The socio-emotional competencies of many young children are lacking; this is a function of not just parenting, but our culture, our country and our post-911 world.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Don’t forget about the epidemic of autism spectrum disorders.  We are, as a society, focusing on what constitutes communication in new ways.

  • Muriel

    I say no screen time of any kind at least until kids are 3 or 4.  I have 3 boys and we did not have TV and we never got video games until my oldest bought his own system at age 18.
    Kids need interaction with people and with the world around.  I recommend lego blocks, puzzles, board games, visits to farms, museums, concerts, and above all books, books and books and physical activities (visits to the playground on a daily basis, the woods, playing with dirt, snow, sand).
    I find TV horrible ( even some public TV programs).  So much advertising and programs of very poor quality and value.  
    Kids will catch up with their peers with Hi Tech in no time and they will have had the benefit of self-discovery, critical thinking and not passive sitting in front of screens.
    I am not a luddite.  Computers are useful tools and can help kids expand their universe but do it much later in life.  

    • Nutricj

      We are an “avoid commercials” at all cost house. If there is a documentary (dinosaur series or Earth, etc.) we record and fast forward so no commercials are ever seen. The kids NEVER watch regular TV shows with commercials and never adult news.

  • hussey

    My kids and I LOVE reading “Monster at the End of the Book” as a book.  I cannot imagine missing out this interaction by having the pages turn without out one of us holding the book closed for the other.  Monster at the end of the computer screen cannot be the same.  

    • Goofyjones

      I agree; sharing books in person is a much richer experience. Turning books into video games for young children, who are still figuring out how to interact with the physical world, is a bad idea.

  • Roy Mac

    Would these people cut it out with talking about how parents are bad because they offer so-called “shut up” toys?  Who do they think taught parents to provide diversions to their toddlers??  It wasn’t grandma or your friend next door, it was the freaking child psychologists!  Enough of these people with a product to sell via a pseudo-book tour!

  • Nutricj

    Kids absolutely have to have lots of time to get bored every single day!!!! Rudolf Steiner coined the phrase that play is the work of children and Einstein took up that cause about boredom and the greatest importance is supporting imagination. This is why homeschooling/unschooling rocks!

  • Susan

    Tom, you posed a rhetorical question early in the program: what is the difference
    between a child learning to read from an ipad vs. learning from a book?


    The critical
    difference is that the baby with the book is
    on his parent’s lap, experiencing intimate human contact –  and the young child with the
    book is alone, experiencing stillness, self-reflection and the wonderful world of imagination.


    Plugging kids in benefits ONLY the parents who need a break.

    But there are other ways to get that break .. let them play
    outside, build a blanket fort, play music, read books, draw
    at the kitchen table, make a creative mess OR perhaps most importantly, be bored.  Bored is OK – even good sometimes!


    To the parents who worry about their children competing with the’plugged
    in’ Hyper-learners?  Don’t.

    have four children aged 12-18.  We
    live in an upper middle class, very competitive CT community, and we raised our
    children with no electronics (including TV) until they could read.  They are normal, well-adjusted kids who enjoy school, sports, music, etc. and perform (academically) very well relative to their peers.  My oldest son, summed it up best in his college essay about growing up unplugged: “Because I wasn’t tethered to a cord or a keyboard, I was free to climb higher, go lower and develop a perspective shaped by nature and people, not marketers.”  

    • Georgetown Forgiones

      Very well said, by both you and your son!

  • Bob

    This takes me back to the early-to-mid 80′s and the advent of home PC’s.  We got one – thanks to my employer subsidizing employee PC purchases – as my daughter approached her second birthday.  We wanted her to grow up as comfortable with a PC as we were with radio, tv, and records.  We never explicitly limited her time with it, and it never replaced personal interaction, as she always used it with either my wife or me.  She is now – at 29 – very comfortable with computers, handheld devices, etc., and uses them for many things, which is what we wanted to achieve.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Interesting to hear the caller who is a child psychologist, saying that discipline and limits, across the board, are not used to gird up the child for a sense of order — my deduction — and therefore enough security to pay sustained attention.  
        I recall plenty of not being entertained.  Go play in the woods for a couple of hours — for weeks on end.  No guidance, except look out for poison ivy.  I think a child does need a lot of exposure to things beyond the trees and the grasses, at least in the modern world.  Parents — the interactions within the family are probably the most educational of all, but I don’t think it has to be huge stretches of time.  If parents do indeed connect with the child when the time is right, say at bedtime, or mealtime, or after school, that is enough.  I don’t think the cyber world offers more than distress.  I think a toddler would see flashing prompts as the equivalent of danger:  Watch out!

  • Lisa Kelly

    Technology is a great thing but damn, we are over-using it all–  Kids are changed bc of iphones, ipads, computers, facebook etc
    Talking back to facebook and Last child in the woods are great books!!

    • Nutricj

      NPR is my social media, LOL

  • 21stmika

    Santa gave my 8 year old son’s friend an iPad for Christmas.  I told him “Santa doesn’t give kids what their parents don’t want them to have” when he asked me why he didn’t get one.  We are not “poor” but we can’t afford one.   We parents have to deal with inequity on so many issues but this one had me thinking of the way education is linked up with technology.  The economic divide in this county is getting bigger and bigger; it scares me that the technology you have (or haven’t got) can push poor children even further off the map.

  • Jaspernet

    My seven year old son is a video game HOUND (a play until you puke kind of kid), but at night, when I check on him, he has inevitably fallen asleep with a book draped across his chest. No, the two activites are not mutually exclusive. If anything, his “game world” experiences allow him to go places in his imagination I never thought of, even with all my avid reading. I should also add that he started reading on his own and silently much earlier than I did.

  • http://www.healthy-kids.info/ Ellie Goldberg

    The caller’s comments about children learning patience reminded me of a poem (and the notes following) that I wrote in 1983 when I was thinking about my children learning to wait, self-control and uses of the imagination.  http://tinyurl.com/LrntoWait

  • Wl_fu

    One thing I am worried that the less lower-income families would erroneously think that they have to give an iPad for their children so that they won’t be behind.  We have iPad at home but my children’s usage is very limited.  From early age, they are more exposed to reading books and I find that I don’t need an iPad to baby-sit them because my 3-year-old could spend time reading books herself for a good chunk of time when I need to make dinner, for example.  Recently I started reading Pipi Longstocking to my 5-year-old and she loves it.  I borrowed the book from the library and it is free. 

  • Ellen Dibble

    I happened to hear the comic Craig Ferguson last night responding to an e-mail from a 30-year-old who asked, “Is it normal to want to prove to my child that I am cool?”  Answer:  “It may be normal, but it’s a waste of time.”  So the slow generation looks at its offspring and thinks, what have we wrought!  Good question, though.

  • Steve-o

    Do you suppose that when books for children started becoming widely available parents were concerned about the disruption to family routines, community relations and the ability of children to use their own imaginations to create stories?  How would books affect brain development?  This is not a new story.
    Change shouldn’t be something we fear.  The technology train has left the station, it’s time to embrace change that is inevitable.  Of course, it is possible to misuse electronics just like anything else.
    Grandma’s call was the most insightful, she described how having her device opened whole new worlds to her.  Imagine the impact on a young reader!  I don’t buy the argument that devices will make books seem dull.  My kids are deeply into online games and electronic devices but also read all the time. Further, we are only at the very beginning of integration of electronics with books.  The definition of what ‘book’ means will continue to evolve, and the sky’s the limit.

    • Ellen Dibble

      If I was heading to a weekend in the country, expecting rain throughout, nowadays I could take one I-pad and have an entire library of books for the child, whereas in the past I would have brought a laundry basket of same.  Or haven’t those books made it onto the apps?  Not yet?  Copyright issues?  I recall there were issues about color at one point.  You may have to be sure you’ve downloaded in advance, but that makes sense.  Being online is so distracting.  

      • Nutricj

        We take, gosh gotta be close to a thousand between my kindle library plus my husbands plus the kids classics list (like Winnie, charlottes, Hugo, etc.) everytime we go upl to my moms in NH where there is zero signal. We read on the kindle/kindle apps. I just bought my mother a kindle fire for her last birthday…she insisted she wouldn’t like it or use it, but my glorious bookie mom now admits she can cuddle up with it just as easily ;-) it is easier on the back and shoulders, LOL

  • Christinafritsch

    I do let my girls who are 5 and 11,use my iPad and get apps that I choose very carefully for them. There are some great new educational games to teach spelling and multiplication tables that have just come out. Rather than restrict my kids from using the iPad at all, I have used the apps for my kids to practice things. They draw and write with pencil and paper and read real books all the time. In fact my 11 year old does not enjoy reading books on the iPad, she wants the physical book in her hands. I use these games like historical search game to open discussion and to treat them after doing homework. If they are learning how to add and subtract negative numbers while playing, so be it.

  • Marcella

    As a parent I understand the concern about kid’s usage if these devices.  I also think we need to take a look at the example that parents set.  How can we expect our children to understand why they can’t use an iPhone when one or both parents are glued to Word with Friends?  As with all parenting, we set the standards and the examples.  We need to exemplify “media-free” time if we expect our children to not to covet these devices in the same way adults do. 

  • Chris

    We started off with sign language DVD’s when my daughter was 11 months old. At 14 months old, we purchased the “Baby Signing Time” app for my iPhone, and my daughter loved it! I believe it’s helped her learn sign language faster, and now she can say most of the words that she signs. Technology is a great tool for teaching children.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Name something that cannot be used for GOOD, or for EVIL?

    • Nutricj

      Ditto triple T!!!!!!!

  • Wm. James from Missouri

    I am paraphrasing from memory , from an older book by Ray Kurzweil, he has written that a one inch cube of carbon nano tubes has more computing power potential than 100 million human minds. I am quite convinced that someday we will all want and have a similar computing device(s) implanted in our brains, as will our children. Today’s children are the proto humans of tomorrow !

  • Kristen177

    I grew up loving “The Monster at the End of This Book” and bought it, and the Elmo sequel, for my kids. We also have the app version of the book and think it is very well done and delightful. Other than missing the opportunity to do my best “Grover voice”, I view the app as a positive experience that really is an enhancement to the paper version we already know and love. 
    I believe there is room in our life for all kinds of reading and learning, whether paper or digital. My 3-year-old son loves his library of paper books, and we read them together multiple times a day. Enjoying the fun interaction available in the digital form has not taken away his love for ink on a page.Are these apps preventing a kid from enjoying Moby Dick, if there is no picture of a whale jumping off the page? Well, let’s compare apples to apples here. My 3 year old isn’t reading black text on a white page right now. His world is that of colorful pictures illustrating the words he hears read aloud to him. I don’t think that exposure to picture books as a preschooler would prevent a child from enjoying non-picture books when he or she is older, so why would an app?Most of the time mommy’s best “Grover voice” is great, but sometimes actually hearing Grover and seeing the words virtually jump off the page is pretty fun too.

  • Ben Becker

    Every time On Point covers a tech topic, the end result is that the tech topic will destroy humanity!!!

    Humans are amazingly adaptive. Don’t think every new tech will destroy humanity. It takes time to adapt. 

    I’m a week or two away from my first baby girl and fully expect her to learn with books, iPads, iPhones, and stuffed animals. It’s not a zero sum game.

  • Gibrad

    Hi Tom. Thanks for taking my email.

    Fascinating show. My primary fascination involved what impact “toddler technology” of this sort mgiht have on human relationships, especially because this tech-interaction limits “body language/tone” stuff. I am thinking that this may not be a problem, because todlers will be able to downloacd emoticon meanings they don’t grasp due to their limited social interactions. For example, mouth in up-turned “U” state means “smile:” a happy state that releases endorphins; a pleasant response to culltivate during human encounters which can be acheived by slipping on a banana peel in front of other person.

    But what resonated with me was the dialogue that happened later in the show, about the “rape of imagination.” Disney’s “Fantasia” sealed in my 5-year old imagination the notion of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” being about dinosaurs, volcanoes and violence. It took many years for me to shed that notion and appreciate that there is even more drama in the germination of a seed.

    I had, therefore, someone else’s imagination imposed upon me and accepted the interpretation. All well and fair, I suppose, as we all are influenced by such things and can’t escape that.

    I just wonder what implications there are for that toddler that incorprates an image or idea that is not his or her own that is carried througout life without questioning or analysis.


  • guest

    That video of the baby interacting with the magazine like it’s an ipad makes me feel literally sick to my stomach.

    • peetey wheetstraw

      guest, how old are you? I am not trying to be confrontational, but I wonder only because “this” is the new reality of our day and age. Just as a very small child is shown how to make a bow and arrow in the middle of the Amazon jungle by his parents, the child in this video is being shown how to use a commonplace tool that our society uses every day. (Granted, I’m coming at this from my anthropological background!) I find it absolutely fascinating that she experiments with the magazine and quickly realizes that it “doesn’t work”. Our 11 month old daughter, while not exposed quite as much to our android tablet (we watch videos in the car on occasion) has an overflowing library of paper books and could turn the pages herself at 4 months old. We have all the Seuss books in both paper and electronic formats. Which does she prefer? The paper. Does she like the e-version? Yes. One amazing thing that she uses the tablet for is the piano! We were at a friend’s house and they have a real piano. She was fascinated by it and tried to mimic the other kids hand placement. She would pick out notes with one finger and had a grand ol’ time with it. On one particular fussy car trip, I remembered that we had a piano app on the tablet…she instantly went to work tapping out her own kinda music! Rotting her brain? I think not.

  • ultramarine73

    My son loves the computer and books.  He reads at two grade levels above his grade.  I think there are mountains being made out of molehills here.

Sep 18, 2014
Flickr/Steve Rhodes

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