The question: A lot of really young kids have high-tech gadgets, and now my five-year-old wants an iPad. Is reading on an iPad or tablet just as good for kids as reading books, or are there health issues – such as vision – to be concerned about?
The answer: The information on how tablets affect young children's health is limited because there has not been sufficient time to study its impact in depth. This technology is relatively new compared with, say, television or video games.
There is no evidence that suggests moderate use (approximately 30 minutes day) of a tablet will damage vision. (For more information on how media affect children's physical and mental health, see cmch.tv).
In absence of in-depth research, though, there are two very divided groups when it comes to really young children exposed to high-tech gadgets.
The one group argues for no exposure. They say that a child who is gadget-free is encouraged to be more creative, more imaginative, less distracted and socially more interactive. I was impressed by a recent piece in The New York Times in which executives working in Silicon Valley intentionally sent their children to schools that used books and no electronic learning devices such as tablets or laptops.
The other group argues that technology is a reality of life, that the sooner children get used to it the better, that there are apps specifically designed to improve early learning and that if exposure to high-tech gadgets is supervised closely, it may actually benefit the child.
The U.S Department of Education's Ready to Learn program has conducted research on the use of iPads in young children. The take-home message thus far is that there are many benefits but much more research is needed before one can draw definitive conclusions.
One can argue that a child who may not want to read a book may be more likely to read when using technology such as an iPad. But I would suggest that the benefits of reading books are well-researched – the Canadian Paediatric Society expressly encourages that activity. Its many benefits are well-documented ( caringforkids.cps.ca).
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