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December 18, 2012

Tempted to buy your tot an iPad? As teaching tools, news is mixed

(Continued)

Rich, who runs the online advice column Ask the Mediatrician, says that apps on iPads and smartphones are limited as teaching tools since they typically focus on one type of learning — "skills and drills," which teach children to correctly identify the ABCs or to moo when they see a cow on the screen.

"What's more important at this age is learning how to learn rather than mimicking something," Rich says.

Moreover, studies show that kids don't learn anything substantial, such as language, from screens — television, iPads, computers — until 30 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on any form of screen time until their children are 2.

A 2004 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children exposed to television at ages 1 and 3 had decreased attention spans at age 7. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg question, though.

"You can see how a kid who already has difficulty paying attention is put in front of the television to chill him out," Rich says. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Toddlers also sometimes struggle to translate what they see on two-dimensional screens to the three-dimensional world. (Check out the YouTube video "A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work," in which a 1-year-old seems to get confused as she swipes her finger on a magazine, trying to move the pictures around.)

"Kids learn by doing, not by watching," says pediatrician Howard J. Bennett of Chevy Chase Pediatrics in Washington. "People once thought videos like 'Baby Einstein' were good for kids too, and that's out now."

Giving children iPads to play with could also backfire, Bennett warns.

"Screens have this addictive quality, so when you take it away," he says, the kids "will probably cry."

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