Dr. S to Pediatricians: Please Guide Kids Using iPads and Other Tablets

Wilmette, Illinois – As the use of tablets increases among children of all ages, questions and concerns are once again raised about the effects these devices have on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently reaffirmed its stance that parents hold off on any form of screen time until children are two, and limit older preschoolers to less than two hours daily. But that sweeping declaration was first introduced in 1999 and referred specifically to television, long before the days of interactive tablets like iPads, and is simply too out of date to be useful in this fast-moving crucial area of childhood. According to Dr. S, “Many parents need to know when and how to introduce tablets to kids, but are mostly on their own. They deserve credible guidance from their pediatricians.”

Dr. S is Eitan Schwarz MD, who is board certified in both General and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. For over 40 years in practice face to face with kids and families, he is on the faculty of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and he is a recognized expert in consumption of media by children and families and digital media in play therapy. In 2010, Dr. Schwarz published his “Kids, Parents, and Technology: A Guide for Young Families” and recently invented ZillyDilly for iPad, to transform the book’s concepts into working tools for parents and teachers managing kids’ media.

“We are seeing youngsters clutching tablets and smartphones in malls and restaurants and are wondering what guidance their parents would follow if it were available,” asked Dr. S. “Some parents are careful, and others indifferent, while most others are just confused, providing children with the rich content of the Internet and many educational and fun apps, as well as some awful content and dangers. Some parents see tablets as an essential part of preparing kids for a lifetime of responsible technology use and wonder, ‘Will my child be left behind if her grade school, high school or college integrates these popular technologies into the classroom?’

“Some parents are wondering if they may be doing more harm than good by removing or over-limiting tablets from the lives of their preschoolers. Moreover, the AAP’s two hour daily maximum for preschoolers passively watching TV (while often snacking and leading to obesity) seems far too long to some. In fact, some parents question whether kids would benefit from much less passive watching of TV and more interactive playing with iPads. Clearly, tablets afford much greater opportunities for parental involvement, as would any good toy.” (And tablet use keeps little hands busy, and is much less likely to be accompanied by snacking. The latest issue of Academic Pediatrics confirms that childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled in the past 30 years, and that there is a clear association between obesity and 19 measures of general health, psychosocial functioning and specific health disorders).

Dr. Schwarz has stated, “There is powerful, growing evidence that interactive video games can actually promote healthy behaviors. Rich graphics and engaging gameplay are fascinating motivators for young children. More and more, tablets are being embraced by educators and have been shown to increase learning engagement. More research is needed, but the benefits of tablets are recognized in an important position statement by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. Touchscreens can enhance learning with calm, creative activities on the touchscreen, such as painting, similar to their real-world counterparts. According to research psychologist Dr. Jordy Kaufman, ‘tablets do not seem to adversely affect children’s behavior or attention in the short term.’”

The AAP does face a significant challenge. There cannot be a simple formula that applies to every child, and tablet use is complexly interactive with individual factors. According to David Kleeman, President, American Center for Children and Media, “The content and context, as well as the needs and abilities of the individual child, not the type of screen – determine whether a particular piece of media is helpful, hurtful or neutral for the child.”

Parental Guidelines For Healthy Tablet Use:
Here’s a list of ten easy ways for parents to ensure safe and productive tablet time for their families that pediatricians can also hand out.
1. Ensure that your child’s games have an age rating that is appropriate for their age. 90% of teenagers say their parents never check game ratings before allowing them to buy them. Always refer to App Store ratings to ensure the games your child wants are rated for his/her age group.
2. Ensure that any tablet or game use is done in a family setting. Allowing children to use tablets or other smart devices in private can encourage unhealthy and antisocial behaviors. Instead, limit use to family settings, discourage snacking, and accompany your young players in their adventures.
3. Consult fellow parents and trustworthy resources for an accurate, in-depth review of a game/app before purchasing it. If you’re unsure of a game’s rating or content, check with the child’s teacher or use online resources like Common Sense Media to help inform your decision. You can also visit MyDigitalFamily.org or refer to Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families by Dr. S.
4. Limit time spent with tablets/media. Games are good for eye-hand coordination, but they can easily occupy inordinate amounts of time. Be sure that tablet time is balanced with quality family time and activities. Be sure to provide age-appropriate time limits and content.
5. Set good examples. Keep tablets and smart devices in a common area, including your own. Tablets should be treated like appliances, so create a common area where they can be charged and parked to help create media free zones. Refrain from overusing these devices yourself.
6. Balance content between healthy growth and mere entertainment, imaginative creativity and empty-headed reactivity to screen content, reflective and busywork, handling three-dimensional and other materials like clay and painting and manipulating images on two dimensional screens, and between active play and lazy sitting and snacking. Be aware of signs that your child is over-engaged or addicted to games or a device, and put proper use restrictions in place to counteract this behavior, and don’t hesitate to consult a credentialed specialist. The younger your child, the more permanent the impact of damaging experiences to the brain he is forming.
7. Limit web use to age-appropriate sites. It’s too easy to stumble upon unsafe or inappropriate online content. Keep online activity restricted to age-appropriate sites and monitor online activity closely. Not all “educational” apps are actually educational.
8. Get involved with your child’s teachers to ensure that schoolwork isn’t suffering and verify that apps are good for the child. Not all apps claimed as educational truly are. To make sure that you’ve struck the right balance of tablet use in your home, keep a close eye on your child’s school performance. If grades begin to slip, it might be time to revisit his/her media plan and adjust it.
9. Talk to the parents of your child’s friends to learn what media they allow in their homes so when your child begins to have sleepovers and play dates, they aren’t playing any violent games or spending too much time online or snacking.
10. Require your approval for all game/app purchases. Establish the rule early on that your approval is required for all game purchases. If tablet purchases are made using your personal information, be sure to keep your username, payment information, and password private. This will ensure that no unapproved apps will show up on your device.

“It is unfortunate that the American Academy of Pediatrics, that body charged with forging and updating guidelines for physicians and parents, has chosen to ignore the difference between passive TV consumption and interactive iPad play,” stated Dr. Schwarz. “I urge parents to contact the AAP and ask them to revise their guidelines.” In the meantime, embracing supervised, timed tablet use, restricting the use of junk media and violent games, and balancing tablet use with quality family time will give your child the digital edge.

Device Requirements:
* Compatible with iPad
* Requires iOS 5.1 or later
* 0.6 MB

Pricing and Availability:
ZillyDilly for iPad 2.1 is $0.99 (USD) and available worldwide exclusively through the App Store in the Education category. With free updates, the app allows the user to create a Media Plan for one child. Additional Media Plans can be added through an in-app purchase of $4.99 (USD) per child. Review copies are available on request.

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MyDigitalFamily, Ltd. in Wilmette, Illinois was founded in 2012 as a bootstrap startup by Eitan D. Schwarz MD, DLFAPA, FAACAP, aligning technology to benefit kids and families and empower and educate parents to teach children good media consumption habits. ZillyDilly is their first product in an area currently in chaos. Dr. S (R) continues in his 42nd year of practicing child, family and adolescent psychiatry. He is double-boarded, an author, a member of the faculty at Northwestern University Medical School, and an expert and researcher in kids’ media consumption. Copyright (C) 2012-2013 MyDigitalFamily, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Apple, the Apple logo, iPhone, and iPod are registered trademarks of Apple Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries. Other trademarks and registered trademarks may be the property of their respective owners.