Touch-screen technology may have a role in assessments of child development since toddlers as young as age 2 are adept at swiping, unlocking and actively searching for features on smartphones and tablets, a small study suggests.
“Interactive touch-screen applications offer a level of engagement not previously experienced with other forms of media and are more akin to traditional play,” wrote researchers led by Dr. Deirdre Murray, from the clinical investigations unit of the department of paediatrics and child health at Cork University Hospital, in County Cork, Ireland. “This opens up the potential application of these devices for both assessment of development and early intervention in high-risk children.”
The findings, published online Dec. 21 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, are based on 82 questionnaires completed by parents of children between 12 months and 3 years of age. Fifty-seven percent of the children were boys.
The parents reported how long their child used touch screens each day, and whether he or she could unlock the screen without help. They were also asked whether their kids could swipe through pages or images, and recognize and interact with certain apps or game features.
Researchers found that 82 percent of the parents owned a touch-screen device such as a smartphone or tablet. Of those, 87 percent let their child play with it for an average of 15 minutes a day, and 62 percent downloaded apps specifically for their child to use, the study found.
Other findings: 91 percent of the parents who owned a touch-screen device said their child knew how to swipe; 50 percent said their child could unlock the screen; and 64 percent felt their child searched for certain touch-screen features. On average, kids mastered these three skills by 24 months of age.
By 25 months of age, on average, children could identify and use individual features on a touch-screen device. Roughly one in three toddlers could perform all four skills studied by an average age of 29 months.
Children as young as 12 months old routinely use touch screens, according to the study authors.
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended restricting screen time for children under age 2.
The researchers behind the new study noted that that recommendation was issued before development of touch-screen media, which could have a different impact on kids’ developing brains.
“Many applications designed for infants and toddlers already exist, but there is no regulation of their quality, educational value or safety,” they wrote. “Some of the issues that arise with passive watching of television still apply.”
-Mary Elizabeth Dallas