“Sociological experiment” with children using mobile devices

An Australian psychologist suggests we don’t quite know what will happen with lots of young children now using tablets and other electronics:

Research indicates that almost half of all toddlers up to two years old have played with a mobile device. It also reveals that 15 per cent of that group can also operate a home entertainment system. That rises to 31 per cent of three- to five-year-olds and a third of six- to eight-year-olds.

The study of 750 adults across Australia who have an internet connection included questions about how children interact with technology and was conducted by media intelligence firm Magna Global.

Most frequently used were iPads (27 per cent for three- to five-year-olds and 43 per cent for six- to eight-year-olds) followed by Wi-Fi-enabled laptops (21 per cent for three- to five-year-olds and 38 per cent for six- to eight-years-olds)…

Jordy Kaufman, a child psychologist and founder of the Swinburne BabyLab, has studied how children interact with devices. ”Given the massive uptake of mobile device use by young kids, we can be said to be engaged in a grand sociological experiment where no one knows what the results will be,” he said.

But he cautions that just because we do not know the outcome, that does not mean the use of devices is negative. There are opportunities for learning from iPads that did not exist before, Dr Kaufman said.

I suppose there are three possible reactions to the situation. Go all in and see the use of mobile electronics as simply part of the progress of the modern world. Americans tend to like progress and new opportunities and these devices certainly fulfill these two requirements. This full usage may occur even with evidence that they don’t contribute much to learning. The opposite reaction is to not allow children access to such devices. To some degree, this is helped by the fact that such devices are not yet completely ubiquitous. But, some may want to wait and see how children respond to mobile devices. And, there is some middle ground where children could use new electronics in moderation alongside more “traditional” activities.

It sounds like we need some sort of randomized experiment to help figure this out. But, we are getting close to a time where it would be really difficult to pull this off.

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