Use of Technology by Babies and Toddlers

Use of Technology by Babies and Toddlers in Australia and Overseas

Does your baby/toddler use an iPad, mobile phone?

Do you use technology as a babysitter?

What are the pros and cons of babies and toddler use of technology?

The accelerating use of technology by babies and toddlers in Australia and overseas is causing concern for health professionals and educators alike.

So how common is it?

There is a raft of statistics from American studies detailing the use of technology by babies and toddlers.  Whilst this is a concern in Australia there is far less information available.  As such this article relies on American information which is probably not too dissimilar to Australian behaviour given our high rate as early adopters of technology.  Australian information is included where never possible.

Accelerated Use of Technology by Babies and Toddlers

A survey conducted in American in 2013 by Common Sense Media (called Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013)  revealed a huge increase in the use of mobile media in American families with children under 8 years.

In 2011 the survey reported that only 8% of families with babies, toddlers and young children owned a tablet.  In 2013 ownership had increase to an amazing 40%.

Furthermore the study found almost a quadrupling in the use of mobile devices by toddlers and babies from 10% in the 2011 study up to 38% in the 2013 survey.

More findings relating to the use of technology by babies and toddlers are provided in the table below.

Table: Comparison of access to technology in American children 8 years and under.

use of technology by babies






Even more telling is the dramatic increase in the proportion of babies and young children who have used a mobile device – increasing from 38% to 72% in just two years.

Another American study conducted in 2011 revealed similar, quite scary results.  This study conducted by Avia Lucas Gutnick et al. called Always Connected The New Digital Media Habits of Young Children found that 80% of children five years and under who use the internet do so once or more a week.  In addition this had increase to a whopping daily use for a quarter of those children once they reached the age of three.

Thus the above research shows that toddlers and babies are embracing mobile devices.

So is all this use of technology by toddlers and babies detrimental?

The findings are mixed by overall more negatives than positive.  Whilst some studies list positive benefits (as well as negative) there are some which advocate strongly against the use of technology in very young children.

Information provided in an article from What To Expect  lists both positive and negative effects of technology as described below.

Positive Outcome of Use of technology by Babies and Toddlers

Fine Motor Skills Development – Playing with an iPad by toddlers and even babies helps develop dexterity of fingers and also eye and hand coordination.

Cause and Effect – Children can learn through technology at a very young age the concept of cause and effect.  When pressing different buttons or swiping the technology responds allowing them to gain a measure of control and enjoyment.

Negative Outcomes of Technology use in Very Young Children

Replacement of Personal Interaction – With babies and toddlers spending a considerable amount of time using technology they are spending less time interacting with peers, adults and older children which is essential for their development of social skills.

External Learning – If technology replaces a toddlers opportunity to experience playing and experimenting with physical objects such as blocks, sandpit etc this reduces their important hands on learning of the world around them.

Reduction in Physical Activity – If time spent on technology replaces time spent in physical activities then toddlers and babies risk the reduction in the necessary muscle development and development of gross motor skills, balance and flexibility etc.

Over Stimulation – Too much time spent playing on technology can result in babies and toddlers becoming overwhelmed by the sensory effects, the noise, change in colour and continuous motion.  A short term result may be that your child becomes frustrated, angry and upset causing temper tantrums.  A longer term result can be that their ability to focus on quieter activities is severely reduced as their attention span is shortened.

Bad Habits – Bad habits are easily achieved, breaking bad habits is far harder.  If from a very young age and continued through their growth years children spend a great deal of time in sedentary use of technology this can lead to increased use as they get older and a very difficult habit to break.

Australian Government Recommendations

The Australian Government Department of Health in their publication National Physical Activity Recommendations for Children (0-5 years) provides recommendations for physical activity levels for babies and toddlers and also recommendations as to the amount (or not) that these children should engage in the use of technology.

One point in particular stands out.  The Department of Health clearly states the recommendation that toddlers and babies (under the age of two) ”should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games).”

Given this Recommendation how does your Home Life match up?

Certainly families are aware of the dangers of technology use in young children as was demonstrated by the outcry which resulted by the introduction by Fisher-Price of the iPad holder seat for babies.  If you are seeking information about the impact and use of technology by babies and toddlers there are links below that may be of interest.

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