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iPad Toddlers: The Guinea Pig Generation

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(credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images News)

(credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images News)

(CBS) Charles Feldman
Charles Feldman joined KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO as an investigative reporter...
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By Charles Feldman, KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO Investigative Reporter

MANHATTAN BEACH (CBS) — David Crook of Manhattan Beach noticed something disturbing about a year ago when his son, Nathan, was only three. Nathan’s attachment to the family’s iPad was a bit more intense than his father preferred.

“We went through a period when he was using it a lot. I felt like he was getting a little addicted to it,” Crook says.

Crook is not alone.

Just 29 months after Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad — the first truly successful tablet computer — many parents are finding their toddlers, in their words, “addicted” to the device in a way that differs from other playthings or even the ubiquitous television set.

And the lack of long term studies on the impact of this new technology on child development has many leading experts concerned.

“As a society, we are conducting a gigantic experiment on our kids,” says Daniel Anderson, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has long studied the impact of television on young minds. “We have no idea how it’s going to turn out.”

While it is hardly a secret that children often sit transfixed in front of the home television screen, what makes iPads and similar devices truly unique, say experts in child development, is the fact that they tend to accompany the child wherever the family goes. Parents tend to use these new devices as pacifiers, sometimes giving an iPad to the toddler while texting or surfing the web on their own tablet computers or smartphones.

The result: no real engagement with the child, who gets lost in a virtual world that is mesmerizing to the developing mind.

“These experiences can pull the kids in, into this abstract, symbolic world, and they don’t want to come out because it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s engaging, it’s active,” says Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review.

Buckleitner says the applications used on the devices may be more important than the use of the devices themselves, though no one is really sure because long term studies on the impact of iPad-type technology on developing minds is just getting underway, with results not expected for years to come.

The real worry is that young children who might spend too much time with iPad type devices may come up short on developing social skills with other children.

And just as adults who spend too much time in front of a computer screen might develop eye strain, the effect on developing, young eye muscles may be more profound.

“Kids are learning to develop their muscles by looking at distance, looking at close. That’s really important to develop their eye muscles,” says child psychologist Nancy Darling at Oberlin College. “If they are always looking at the same distance, holding the iPad in their hands, it’s actually, really, a very limited physical environment.”

Parents who give their iPads to toddlers to play with before bedtime may be in for a rude awakening — literally. Some studies indicate that exposing kids (and even adults) to back-lit computer screens at night can actually lead to a form of insomnia.

While no expert is suggesting that parents avoid allowing their toddlers supervised engagement with tablet computers or smartphones, they do tend to agree that the time spent on these devices by those under 5 years of age ought to be limited.

And experts also say if a child is permitted to play with an iPad type device, parents should try and remain engaged with the child so the experience involves the child’s interaction with the parent and not just the device.

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