Is that iPad making your kid smarter or dumber? For the moment, no one really knows. Impassioned opinions are readily available on both sides but rigorous scientific studies have yet to be published. Are tablets+kids our generation’s developmental thalidomide or merely another fluoride, beneficial in measured doses but harmful when free-based? Today’s kids are guinea pigs in a massive uncontrolled experiment to find out and I worry about my toddler. I love technology. I believe in the ability of tech to empower individuals, connect communities and unite our species. I believe this deeply. Yet I would turn into a born again Luddite in a heartbeat if I thought technology was harming my child. Two things I care deeply about appear to be in mortal conflict and I need an actionable answer NOW.
There is a study, “Young Children, Apps & iPad” (pdf), funded by the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn initiative, which looked at kids 2 to 8 years old and their engagement with iPads. Read into the study though, and you’ll discover it was based on briefly interviewing and observing 60 kids over a very short period of time. It contains such insightful findings as, “Children’s initial reaction to touch screen devices is characterized by fascination and immediate engagement”. Yes, the same could be said of Twinkies, but it doesn’t mean Twinkies are beneficial. In short, there is little in the study that will be surprising, or even informative, to anyone that’s spent much time with kids and tablets. This study can shed a little light on how kids engage with tablets but tells us nothing about whether their development is being stunted or accelerated.