Study finds touch screens don't help toddlers learn

Experts say parent interaction still tops technology

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NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. - Pediatricians say it's a trend they're seeing more often in their own offices -- parents pulling out smartphones to entertain or distract their child.

"We have observed in our neonatal clinic that the number one 'toy' parents are giving their toddlers are smartphones," Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a physician at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York. "It was striking to see that parents were substituting books and general baby toys for smart phones. Many parents did not seem to bring any other distraction for their children except the touch screen devices."

A group of pediatricians from the center decided to see if those smartphones and other devices were helping or hurting very young children from an educational standpoint.

They evaluated infants and toddlers from 65 families. The average toddler in the study started using a touch screen device at age 11 months and used it for about 36 minutes a day.

Although 60 percent of the parents reported "educational benefits" from their child using the device, the study found no significant difference on tests between children who used the devices and those who did not.

There did seem to be a downside. Researchers say they found children who played non-educational games using touch-screen devices, such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, had lower verbal test scores.

"Technology can never replace a parent's interaction with his or her child," Dr. Milanaik said. "Just talking to your child is the best way to encourage learning."

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