Tablets for Tots: Pros, Cons & Potential Health Risks

A preschooler using a tabletThe debate over children’s use of handheld electronic screens, i.e. mobiles and tablets, is an important one. How much screen time is too much for children? Is it even safe for young, developing brains? In this article we go through the pros and cons of allowing children to use handheld screens and discover some major causes for concern.

The pros of letting children use mobiles and tablets

On the one hand, handing a mobile or tablet to a demanding child is a very convenient way to keep them entertained. This is especially true for parents who find themselves stretched in multiple directions with ever-decreasing free time. Handheld electronic devices will keep children — even the very young — extremely engaged. Parents can then largely get on with other tasks.

“‘Today’s preschoolers are confidently navigating digital platforms with purpose and determination. By the age of three, almost all watch programmes on-demand and have access to a connected device … more than half have their own tablet or computer.” (Childwise).

As well as being entertained, some children are also being educated by the device, depending upon the content, of course. That does make sense — children will get to grips with technology, discover new interests and learn if they’re exposed to the right content. ‘How to’ videos are of particular interest to older children while programmes about nature and science teach something to children of all ages.

The cons — including potential health risks

Toddlers as young as 3 are able to control many aspects of handheld devicesOn the other hand, there are real concerns over the possible negative impacts of too much screen time on children. How can parents be sure that their child will not stumble across unsuitable content? (Read on for a possible solution). Are mobiles and tablets even safe for young, developing brains? Indeed, this is a concern of many scientists and medical professionals around the world. Some go so far as saying that any close proximity to the RF wireless radiation associated with mobiles, tablets and Wi-Fi devices is potentially damaging — on a cellular level, even for foetuses in the womb.  We’ll go into more detail about that later in the article.

Even if that were not the case, there remain other concerns over how much time young children should spend staring at mobiles and tablets while disengaging from the ‘real’ world. Not only are children missing out on more natural interactions when on handheld devices, but they’re also likely to be more sedentary, which we all know is not a good lifestyle habit to encourage.

Is it lazy parenting?

Is handing a tablet or mobile device to a child lazy parenting? Some would argue that it is, but in the real world, sometimes a parent simply needs the child to entertain themselves for a while, so the parent can get on with some other task that just has to be done. Handheld screens are a great solution to that.

What’s presented to the child on the electronic screen doesn’t necessarily need to be some banal game or pointless cartoon. Educational content can be just as entertaining to a toddler if it’s carefully selected. Even some games, for example, can teach children things like numeracy, problem-solving and more, whilst also being great fun. It’s therefore a balance that every parent needs to consider. Spending a little time carefully selecting the right digital content for a toddler can be time very well spent.

Are mobiles & tablets potentially harmful to the child?

RF wireless technology is cause for concern amongst some expertsAccording to many scientists and medical professionals, devices emitting ‘RF wireless radiation’ (like mobiles and tablets connected wirelessly to the Internet) have been shown to be potentially harmful. We, the writers of this article, are not scientists or medical professionals, so cannot advise one way or the other. However, some who are more qualified are keen to warn pregnant women, in particular, and parents of young children that great care needs to be taken around devices connected wirelessly. Their research suggests that being in close proximity to the wireless radiation emitting from connected mobile phones and handheld tablets can potentially affect the actual cell structure of the human body. The Baby Safe Project is one such body of scientists and medical professionals that is pushing for further research to clarify the matter. Their findings to date, though, are extremely concerning if correct. If you can spare just over an hour to really look at the science (skip the ad’s), this video is of huge interest (… and concern — Editor’s note: after watching this video I will never sleep next to my mobile again, if connected to Wi-Fi). If you are short on time, this 3 minute video is significantly faster to digest, although misses out the deeper scientific detail.

How to mitigate possible harm

Devices can run many applications without being connected to Wi-Fi or other wireless networks. Switching mobile phones and tablets onto ‘Flight Mode’, for example, will disconnect them from Wi-Fi and render them much more safe, according to the scientists above. Alternatively, connecting them to the Internet using wired connections (e.g. Ethernet cables) will mitigate the risk of RF wireless radiation being generated.

The Baby Safe Project is a non-profit initiative that raises concerns over the impact of wireless radiation on human health. With its goals endorsed by many of the world’s leading experts in the fields of microwave radiation, brain development, obstetrics, paediatrics and public health, it has some useful guidelines for keeping safe from exposure to wireless radiation, around handheld devices, for example. They recommend that pregnant women should take particular care. Take a look at their guidelines here.

We’re not scientists ourselves, but ‘better safe than sorry’ would seem a sensible approach given the experts’ concerns.

Parental controls

Parents can grapple back control of mobiles and tablets remotelyEven if the above is taken out of the equation, there are other considerations when it comes to the amount that under-fives are exposed to the use of mobiles and tablets. Children learn fast and will often take full control of their handheld electronic devices in a very short space of time. The devices often become their most closely guarded possession, in fact. Controlling their activity on mobiles and tablets can be very challenging for a parent, but it’s very important. Children will often keep activity on such devices very ‘close to their chest’, literally- as well as figuratively-speaking, so it’s not easy.

There are some relatively easy and convenient ways to wrestle back some control from your child, though. Accompanied parental supervision is the most obvious solution, although it’s not always possible to watch the child for every second. There are technological solutions too, however. For example, the popular cyber security firm Norton offers ‘Parental Controls’ in a variety of their software packages. As well as adding protection layers on desktop computers, parental controls can also now cover mobiles (both Android and iPhone) as well as tablets.

How does it work?

In our example, Norton’s Parental Control applications allow parents to keep an eye on websites that children have visited, including a full history of browsing and searching criteria, and can block individual sites if necessary. Parental control applications can also put a limit on how much time is spent on the Internet. They can limit the number of hours spent on the Internet each day, or limit use to be within specific hours of the day, or days of the week. Such applications can even email the parent updates on the activity taking place on the child’s device, or allow the parent to lock the child’s device at will. We don’t usually link to 3rd party commercial offerings (and don’t endorse them) but this page shows a little more about what’s possible with Parental Controls.

Contact Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery would be happy to answer any questions that you might have. Our nursery is based in Edgbaston, close to Central Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick. Call 0121 246 4922 for details of all our childcare services for babies and preschoolers, or email us here. We’ll be happy to help.