Parenting • May 09, 2013

Should I Let My Child use an iPad?

Should I let my child play with an iPad?

This is why I say, “Yes!” to my toddler and his tablet.

“Mama, can I have the ‘myPad’? Please!”

This is one of the most common phrases I will hear most any given day. My iPad was fondly renamed by my now 3-year-old, when he turned two. Like most kids, he was drawn to the colorful glowing screen that usually features a picture of his face on the home screen. Of course he would think it was his!

As a mother and pediatrician, I have spent many – too many –  minutes worrying about whether the iPad was a good idea at all. How much time is too much? What was appropriate “educational” content? Were other parents providing better apps then I was? Was I “cheating” as a parent to have a kid sit calmly through dinner at a restaurant because of an electronic device? Was there some benefit to having a child scream and kick through a long car trip?

The further I get into parenting, the more realize the iPad, or any similar device is just a tool like any other, and a toy like no other.  Here are my top reasons for continuing to allow my young child to have the “myPad”.

1)      I want my child’s brain to be more comfortable then mine switching from paper to electronic formats and back. I have been using a computer since I was less then 10. Yet, it has still taken years to “let go of the paper.” From calendars to books, my brain still fights me on this one. I love my e-readers, but sometimes I just want a heavy stack of papers and a fat highlighter. The world is not headed back to paper, so why would I try to raise my child as if it was?

2)      I don’t believe in “just because.”  As in, just because I was raised without a tablet and turned out well (by my parents’ standards) does not mean that all future generations should be raised in the exact same manner. That is backwards thinking. They are growing into a world different from the one we currently live in and so they should be raised accordingly.

3)      He learns things from it. He does and so do I. Many of the apps challenge him and he quickly will become bored with material and skills he has mastered and move himself to something else. It grows with him.

4)      It builds fine motor skills.

5)      He likes it.

6)      It has built-in safety features. Bear with me. Many times I have provided the “myPad” at the kitchen island while working with knives, hot burners, ovens, etc. Often alone in the house with my child, I would rather have him engrossed in a positive “sit still” activity then constantly underfoot and at risk of harm. It is also useful when I need a shower, or to return a page, etc.

7)      It reduces stress. Whether in a waiting room, the car, waiting for the check at dinner, or visiting friends without children, a tablet device can hold enough entertainment to keep him from boredom, mischief, and melt down. This reduces both his stress and mine.

But… there are some things to keep in mind:

1)      It is a tool: Multipurpose it may be, but it requires observation and responsibility on the part of the parent to provide age-appropriate material and time limits if needed.

2)      It does not replace human interaction which is so very important: Both parent/child and peer group or sibling interactions are extremely important. “Mommy and Me” time is always a priority. My son attends a child development center where there is no screen time and lots of social time. He has an extroverted personality so the isolation of the myPad at home is not a concern right now. Know your child. If they need to work on social interactions then time limits should be enforced or the device could be used in specific ways to encourage and aid social interactions.

3)      It does not provide exercise or gross motor development: It may be great for the mind but less so for the body. There are exercise apps. I am not sure if there are kid-specific apps along this line, but there probably are. Weight issues are a concern for our young sedentary population. Keep this in mind. Balance in life is important. A tablet can teach you the rules and strategies of soccer, but it can’t teach you how to kick a ball or be on a team.

4)      They can break it: If you can’t live without it, insure it, or replace it, be very careful how, where and when you let your child use it. Back-up data and photos that can’t be replaced.

So, those are my thoughts and my decision. Every family, every child is different. This is not an ad for iPads, but the future of child rearing is upon us and the newest generation of tech savvy toddlers is here to stay.



  1. The key word in your entry is “moderation”. Moderation not only in electronics use but also organized, scheduled activities, children need free play time to develop their imagination, social, reasoning abilities and other developmental domain skills.
    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Hi Doc,

    What you have stated are very practical reasons and these are the reasons why as parents we let the iPad stick around. Scientifically/ medically is it safe for viewing continuously at such close quarters? is there any danger to the eyes/ brain?

  3. Children’s short attention span and immature working capacities often make it difficult for adults to do the tasks that need to be done. Offering them a distraction may seem like the way to go. I am sure there are electronic programs/apps that are quite good, I have simply not met any yet that I have found truly challenging in a way that has helped me learn in a lasting manner.

    As archaic as it is, our minds are used to learning by doing, by feeling the rough grooves in the alphabet blocks….etc. Children feel and remember these sensations much more strongly than we as adults do. It is the building blocks of their memory and their connection to our world and humanity as a whole. It is our duty as adults to facilitate these contacts for them as much of this as possible; so they can experience more than the smooth texture of an ipad, the perfectly contrasted colors and lights of a screen. The window is small. When we are grown our minds are used to ignoring these things. Yet these sensations, and the memories of these sensations, are what makes the world real to us, and makes living joyful.

    I don’t believe that educators who are against electronics say so because they are afraid of being replaced by electronics. In fact, some nurseries and daycares that do not fear parental disapproval find it the best way to babysit children without the need to engage them in otherwise manpower intensive activities (set-up, guidance, cleanup). Ask yourself: If you send your toddler to a nursery, would you be happy with them having ‘computer time, TV time’? Or would you prefer they prepare materials for them to explore with their hands, songs for them to practice singing? Is the use of digital objects just something that only YOU allow yourself to use as a distraction/education for them when you are the main caregiver? I am not saying that more labor-intensive work with a child makes you a better educator/parent (this seems to be a frequent argument made in the case of sleep-training, but let’s not get into that). The main problem is: because digital programs are designed to be so engrossingly perfect, it leaves little room for the imagination to blossom. And, this may sound counter-intuitive, but children need to learn to tolerate ‘boredom’, to deal with the frustration of not being able to do things. Only in this vacuum can they learn to create for themselves. And that is the height of human experience. We are not all consumers of what is sweet and lovely, but makers of our world and our reality. We may feel like we are having them ‘miss out’ on vital stimulation when other children are already ‘mastering’ the skills of apps on the iPad. But these things can wait. That they are designed for children’s maturity level doesn’t mean that they fulfill children’s holistic developmental needs at their current age. And the fact that there will always be new technology makes the ability to master the technology we have today a moot skill.

    One strong indicator of whether electronics function effectively as educational tools are the numerous parents who work in these fields who allow their children to use them. My husband used to work in entertainment law, he says none of the people who work in the TV business allow their children to watch TV. And the news from silicon valley is that charter schools there that Do Not introduce computers before high school are extremely popular among the wealthy families.

    What to do, then? A toddler can be impossible in the kitchen. At that age, they have a strong desire to see what you are doing and participate. There are simple ways to allow the child to participate in food prep that can be deeply satisfying for both parent and child: Have your child stand on a safe higher surface like The Learning Tower and have them transfer cut up peas for you into the prep bowl, stir mixtures…etc. Sometimes simply observing your work can be satisfying to them. When their attention has come to its limit they will signal this to you by “messy play” – throwing food bits around, banging things. Then it is time to take off their apron and put them back on the ground. This sort of involvement in everyday life work takes patience though, and can often make work take a bit more time than parents are willing to invest.

    Electronics are made to be ‘intuitive’: easy to master. We are frequently amazed that children learn to operate and navigate them. Does that mean that it is a greater aid for them to learn? Or will it lower their tolerance for learning disciplines and skills that require more patience and have less accessible interfaces? I would argue the latter. When I was much younger, my parents allowed me to watch a lot of tv while they were busy (dad getting his degree, mom baking/socializing/busy with new baby…etc). I still find my patience for the hard work and constant time that is required for learning certain skills (maths, languages, practicing an instrument, working in a lab…etc) very limited, and as such my abilities in such areas have not been as in-depth as I would have liked. My attention goes from one subject to another, so that some may call me broadly learned, but what this society NEEDS are more focused individuals in specialized fields making advances in the fields of knowledge, of public policy, and industrialized goods, not simply people who are entertained and entertaining. In this manner I am crippled.

    We have yet to get results in from the effects of electronics on this generation. It may be that we can evolve different forms of acquiring information and utilizing it. It may be a sentimental hindrance of a habit to our learning when we enjoy paperback books rather than digitalized publications. Time (and studies) will tell.

  4. What are your thoughts on wifi versus apps on the iPad? I am guilty of letting my little one watch baby einstein or a cartoon on YouTube.

  5. What are your thoughts about radiation from IPAD. I have been letting my little boy play with. Sometime he has watched downloaded content, other times played with apps, or watched YouTube. I’m reading now about dangers of radiation, wifi, to kids and I’m feeling really scared and sick that I could have made bad parenting decisions that could potentially harm my son in future.

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