When I spot my 2-year-old daughter cozied up in the corner of her playroom with a book, I smile as she “reads” to herself and silently pat myself on the back for teaching her the importance of books. If she picks up the iPad, however, I immediately feel a twinge of guilt and begin monitoring how much time she spends on it. Mom guilt, am I right? I also wonder if tablet devices are bad for learning and social development. I mean, will using an iPad cause my child to read later? Is all that mom guilt I can't help but feel justified?
U.K.-based reading specialist Julianne Miller, who has a Masters in special and inclusive education and works as a specialist teacher primarily focused on dyslexia, tells Romper in an email that it comes down to how a child is using an iPad. “An iPad can't slow down the natural language and literacy development which blossoms into reading,” she says. “Of course, if you use an iPad as a glorified television, you're not encouraging reading.”
In fact, Miller says that, for most children, reading development follows a fairly set trajectory, meaning that concepts about print arise from seeing books being held, understanding text directionality, and learning that a golden “M“ means McDonalds. If a child is living in a literate household, then this path happens naturally and cannot be interrupted by an iPad.
“iPads have a host of apps that a conscious parent can choose as part of literacy development,” says Miller. “We live in a world in which technology is a blessing, and learning to harness technology for reading purposes is timely and appropriate.”
A 2015 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) showed that iPads can be used for educational purposes when the content is related to reading or developing vocabulary. Researchers in the study suggest parents use resources such as PBS Kids or Common Sense Media to help guide their media choices for the iPad and other devices.
“Parents should be encouraged to try a game or app first, play it with the child, and ask the child about it afterward to see what he or she is learning,” note the study’s authors.
Miller said parents should also consider trying audio books in order to incorporate another medium that helps encourage reading, but doesn't include screen time. “Since reading and writing are cooperative skills, you support reading in a novel way,” she says.
As for the mom guilt, you (read: me) can set it aside. It sounds like, with a bit of balance, our iPad-using kids are going to be better than alright.