Switched-on iPad infants put to the test

A TODDLER sits with a magazine in front of her, sliding her fingers across the pages then waiting expectantly for them to transform at her touch. It is clear from the video that she believes the magazine is an iPad.

The next part of the YouTube clip shows the girl comfortably playing with an actual iPad. It ends with a message from the girl’s mother: ”For my one-year-old daughter a magazine is an iPad that does not work.”

For infant and child development psychologist Dr Jordy Kaufman, the YouTube video’s message is not surprising. But what he did find interesting was the strong reaction people had to it.

”The comments were very telling in terms of the feelings people have towards kids using touchscreen devices,” he says. ”Lots of people think it’s really funny, really cool. And there’s a lot of people who get the heebie-jeebies from it and think, ‘What are we doing to our kids?’.”

Dr Kaufman says the effects on children’s brain development from iPads are still largely unknown.

At a time when the popularity of touchscreen apps targeting infants and toddlers is exploding, Dr Kaufman, founder and director of the Swinburne Baby Lab, decided it was time that specific research was done.

So far, most research and warnings concerning children’s use of iPads has been based on research involving TV viewing. ”There is enough research showing television, especially some types of television, can have a detrimental effect on children,” Dr Kaufman says. ”But to assume it’s bad for all sorts of vices seems to be painting with an overly broad stroke.”

Dr Kaufman says the research, which has so far tested 46 children aged four to six, involves examining their attention and problem-solving capabilities after using an iPad compared with using real toys. For example, as part of the study, children are being asked to solve a problem using a wooden model. They are also asked to solve the same problem using an iPad app. After they have played, they are given a test to assess their attention.

Dr Kaufman also gets children to participate in drawing, colouring and block building, both physically and on iPads. Preliminary findings have shown that for some children, touchscreens appear to motivate and enhance learning rather than hinder it.

Dr Kaufman also said results were indicating that calm, creative activities on the touchscreen, such as painting, were similar to their ”real world” counterparts in that they ”do not seem to adversely affect children’s behaviour or attention in the short term”.

He hopes the study will help parents make more informed choices. ”Technology is changing so quickly, and what we really have to try to do from a science and societal perspective is try to have the research not lag too far behind that.”

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