Warning on dangers of toddlers using iPads too soon
EXPERTS are warning of the developmental dangers for children from toddlers using tablet computers and smartphones before they have even learnt to read.
As online technology takes over, psychologists are concerned about allowing children to spend significant amounts of time online.
Research in the US and UK has revealed a growing number of young children are now using mobile devices, with the number of babies and infants under two using the technology rising to 38pc in the US.
Leading academics here are warning similar figures would apply to Ireland, in line with the number of people using tablets soaring 60pc over six months and now standing at 1.4 million.
"These findings would hold up for Ireland as well. We're exposing children to developmental levels that they are not ready for," warned Dr Conor McGuckin, assistant professor in educational psychology at Trinity.
"Basically, at that age children should be learning the art of conversation, how to take turns and mimicking behaviour.
"They need to be exposed to social norms. If they are mostly interacting with a tablet they are not getting that feedback from others.
"A lot of children are getting to pre-school and they have never read a nursery rhyme, never recited a nursery rhyme," he said.
Dr McGuckin said the increased use of technology by younger children could be putting them at risk of nature deficit disorder.
"There is a great social network available for children and it's called 'outside'.
"In their formative years, children should be learning experiences from outside. Now we're in a situation where many have never collected frog spawn or gone for nature walks.
"We have developed a fear of the outside, that it is not safe for children because of paedophiles and inappropriate adults. We are trying to overprotect children from the outside."
He added: "Just because technology has increased doesn't mean a child's development has. They still develop at the same rate as our parents or we did.
"In the real world we teach children to cope. We teach them to wear a coat if they go outside or to take care when crossing the road.
"We've no idea how to teach them to cope with the online world.
"We wouldn't just allow a child out to play on the road by themselves. We make sure they have the skills they need, but we are letting them play in the online world by themselves."
The psychologist also urged parents to stay with children if they are watching children's programmes on tablets.
"The programme may be age specific, but the adverts and information that surrounds it are often not," he said.
However, experts acknowledged the positive aspect of children using such technology if properly monitored, allowing them to gain the digital literacy skills they will need in the future.
"There can be positives to this if parents are learning with their children, going online together, so that from an early age being online is something they share at home instead of being something private," said Dr McGuckin.
Dr Ciaran McMahon, of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, also praised the social advantages of online literacy – but stressed there must be debate among the public and policy makers on the implications for young children
"This is not just an issue for parents. The onus is on us to think, as a wider society, of the implications of very young children using this technology.
"Society dictates what is not suitable for children and legislates for that. This is in the hands of the people and therefore in the hands of government and policy formation," he added.