I have a nephew in his twenties, and he has two lovely children; a toddler boy and a baby girl. The other day we were at a family gathering, and to keep the children amused while the adults got on with grown-up stuff, he gave the small boy his iPhone and the smaller girl his car keys to play with. In no time at all, children being children, they had put the corner of the iPhone and the key fob into their mouths and were enthusiastically sucking and chewing on them. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on small children, but I do know something about the way electronic equipment is manufactured. Under normal conditions of use, there is a very little risk to an end user, but some of the materials used to make key fobs and iPhones can be pretty nasty. Using them as teething aids is not really recommended, not to mention the risk of damage to the devices themselves from moisture and being dropped. Anyway, this event got me thinking in broader terms about how safe it is for electronic devices such as iPhones and iPads to be used by young children.
Children love electronic devices
All children have an aptitude for electronic devices; they intuitively pick up how to operate them and they get really deeply absorbed in their games and activities. This deep absorption is one of the areas that parents can often feel uneasy about – questions abound online related to whether an electronic device should be allowed to be a substitute for ‘real life’ play with physical toys, and whether it will stunt their child’s intellectual (and even emotional) development. One of the areas of greatest concern appears to be the age at which children are first allowed to use a tablet or other electronic device, and how long they should be allowed to spend on it. After all, iPads and iPhones are cellular devices, and for a long time people have been expressing fears about cellular devices and radiation affecting user’s brains.
How old and how long?
As with all important questions, expert opinion is divided on how safe it is for a child to operate an electronic device with a screen – however, all experts recommend limiting the amount of time the child is involved, with the amount of use depending on their age. As a general rule, up to the age of 2 years old, best practice appears to be not to allow any direct contact with electronic devices at all. From age 2 to 5, it has been suggested that a maximum of one hour per day is best practice. From age 5 to young adulthood, the guidelines suggest no more than 2 hours per day. These guidelines sound simple and straightforward, but how easy they would be to implement in the real world, especially given the average young person’s need for a connected life, and the increasing use of the technology for teaching, is anybody’s guess!
In the end, I recommended that it would be a good idea for my nephew to carry some alternative toys and teething objects with him to keep his children occupied.