Why having fun on the tablet can be a roadblock for children

WASHINGTON • Should parents get a tablet for their four-year-old children?

For some parents, it would be a great tool to use while waiting in lines, sitting in restaurants or doing something where it would be helpful if the child were occupied.

They may feel that the games kids play on these tablets are educational.

They may have also seen parents in battles over screen time and kids with near-addictions to these devices.

So should parents hold them off?

For Ms Meghan Leahy, a certified parent coach and mother of three daughters, her direct answer is "no".

An intrinsic problem with tablets and games is that children do not experience much frustration while playing them.

The clearest answer she can give is that preschoolers do not need tablets of any type to grow into high-functioning and mature adults.

Do children love tablets? Yes.

Do tablets provide endless hours of distraction so that parents and caretakers can turn their attention elsewhere? Certainly.

Are there some games that are genuinely fun? Yes.

Still, she feels that a child does not need a tablet to grow up or become "smarter" or better or really, anything at all.

Four-year-old children need a physically and emotionally safe caretaker and home, plenty of self-directed play, wholesome food and lots of water, more sleep than parents think, and - this is important - the opportunity to cry about what they cannot change.

An intrinsic problem with tablets and games is that children do not experience much frustration while playing them.

Whether they are "educational" or fun, many games geared towards preschoolers are constantly re-calibrating themselves to match the level of the child.

This means a four-year-old child will be rewarded whether he or she is winning or losing.

This does not sound problematic - in fact, the brain absolutely loves it - but it can become a huge developmental roadblock.

The way people emotionally mature and grow is not through everything coming easily.

They grow when they struggle through something hard; the brain learns and adapts, and they move forward. Tablet games do not aid with this growth.

Ms Leahy says that does not mean she eschews all technology when it comes to children.

Although paediatricians and neurologists have studied and warned parents against the effects of technology abuse in all children, the reality is that gaming, tablets and smartphones are not going anywhere.

And for every outright "rule" to never allow a four-year-old child to have a tablet, there is an exception.

The ability to FaceTime a parent who is travelling or the ability to talk to a parent in a divorce or separation can be a powerful reason to allow a four-year-old to have a tablet.

There is also software geared towards children who are differently abled in all kinds of ways and a child should not be deprived of a tool that helps keep him connected to caretakers or his world.

Ms Leahy says parents know the abilities and needs of their children better than anyone else and the question is about trusting their intuition.

As the child gets older, parents will be faced with more decisions like the tablet one.

Parents will look to society and find both answers and total confusion. Their value system will be tested. It is important for them to pursue information as they need it (Ms Leahy recommends Dr Mari Swingle's book, i-Minds), but they should not pursue so much information that they are lost.

Ms Leahy says parents know what is best in such instances.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 14, 2018, with the headline 'Why having fun on the tablet can be a roadblock for children'. Subscribe