The tablet is the most preferred and widely used digital device amongst children under 5 years old. This is according to a 2015 study from the Autonomous Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, as part of a qualitative research project which involved about 70 Families across sixteen European countries. The partial results of 11 selected families in Spain have been published in the report " Children and Digital Technology " (2016).
More than half of the children under 5 are regular users of tablets, with 1 in 4 preferring the smartphone. Another 1 in 10 are PC users. Why do children choose tablets over other devices? Essentially, this preference is linked to their enormous usability. Thanks to their touch screens – responsive to a mere brush of the fingers and ever ready to be used and enjoyed – is just what children are looking for.
Children and digital technology: what the research reveals
Children view technology as something positive, linking it to entertainment. Parents believe the opposite – technology is an ‘enemy’ that stops children from engaging in physical activity or interacting normally with others. Even if they admit to often using technology to distract their kids.
The tablet – as it is easy to imagine – is often used by children to play games, watch videos and cartoons rather than to browse digital books such as short stories and fairy tales.
With regards to the time spent watching cartoons, the research revealed that 6 in 10 children under 5 years watch them one hour per day; with 3 in 10 doing so less than 1 hour per day.
Of more interest, perhaps, is that the study revealed that children are accustomed to use the tablet by themselves, in the same manner as soft toys and other games.
Rules of usage are set by parents, but ultimately the device is managed by the child – in contrast to cell phones or PCs which are more strictly controlled and used only with parental supervision.
Very few children under 5 in fact use a cell phone, even if it doesn’t work and has no internet or even sim card. Basically, it seems that parents feel more confident leaving a tablet in the hands of their children than a cell phone – and this is something kids love – particularly because their big screens make it more enjoyable.
So how do they learn to use the tablet? According to researchers, children learn to put to work the tablet and other devices by themselves – observing others such as their parents, other family members, especially older siblings and cousins.
Children and Technology: Advantages and Disadvantages
According to the Spanish research, among the benefits of this early learning, is the timely familiarization of tools that will later become an integral part of the future of children - at school, in every day social life and at work .
With regards to the risks however, the researchers report that children may be exposed to inappropriate content (sex, violence or bad language) in the course of online activities. However in reality, no family in the study revealed having negative experiences, even if parents consider parental control systems not entirely efficient in filtering and blocking.
From this study, researchers recommend more to encourage the child's self-control. Educating their children to manage themselves even at this age is critical in their development and growth.
The final recommendations of the research
At the conclusion of the study, researchers outlined more specifications recommendations for parents. Three in particular include:
1. Monitoring time: A child must not spend more than one and a half hours per day glued to the screen of a tablet or other digital device.
2. Know and monitor content. Content must be age appropriate. In particular online surfing must be always watched discreetly.
3. Be present. This means participating in a game or watching content from the beginning, looking for dialogue and discussion. But interfering in games is never appropriate – this would be seen by children as an invasion of their space and at that point it would be hard to get their approval and their consent. So the advice is to foster digital experiences that involve the whole family, so as to limit (but not exclude) individual use.