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Touchscreen technology and toddlers

Published: 1:30PM Sunday May 25, 2014 Source: Sunday

Parents should be careful of claims made about educational apps for children, a leading developmental psychologist warns.

Dr Jordy Kaufman has been studying the impact of touch screen technology on children's learning.

It is relevant research at a time when more and more babies and toddlers are spending time on their parents' smart phones, or even being given their own tablets.

Dr Kaufman of Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology says it's important to study this new trend in children's play.

Currently, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends treating touch screen devices like TV - no exposure for children aged under two and then a limited amount until age three.

But Dr Kaufman believes it is ok to put a touch screen device in the hands of a child under two - although their activity on it should be carefully monitored.

His work, which is yet to be published, has been looking at whether children can learn on a touch screen device and transfer that knowledge to the real world.

"Overall the picture is fairly negative about what children can learn from television. The problem with extrapolating that to touch screens is that they are very, very different to television. Touch screens aren't passive, they're active," says Dr Kaufman.

But app stores can be a minefield of choice for parents.

"You've got thousands and thousands of apps which are saying that your child should be using this to improve their motor skills, or to improve their memory. ''And they're advertising these for children… less than a year of age."

Dr Kaufman says the app market has been referred to as the "Wild West because of the un-supported claims made about the educational value of apps for kids.

"There's no real good advice out there when you go to these stores and try to look. Ratings aren't particularly helpful."

He advises parents to monitor their children's activity and judge for themselves.

"Are they actually learning from it?

"If they're supposedly learning animal sounds, see if they've learnt animal sounds. What's really important is to observe your child during and after they have been using a specific app and ask was anything gained out of this?"

Dr Kaufman recommends for good app reviews.

* Hundreds of families wondering about the impact of new technology on their children have signed up for Dr Kaufman's research projects.

Sunday correspondent Libby Middlebrook visited Dr Kaufman's "Baby Lab", and spoke to him his ground-breaking research.

His work can be seen on Sunday 7pm TVOne.


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