Dr. Joti Samra speaks to The Province newspaper – Is it time to take the iPad away from your kid?

Cecilia Dubon remembers the moment she decided her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter needed an iPad detox.


They had just arrived home after a Nevada road trip and Natalia was shrieking her head off, demanding to use her “ABC.”


“She kept on going, ‘ABC! ABC!’ and we told her, ‘No ABC,’ and she just screamed for a long time,” said Dubon. “That’s when we said, ‘No, you can’t have it.’ The tantrums were becoming unacceptable.”


Dubon got her iPad six months ago, and it was a handy means to entertain her daughter on the family’s frequent flights and road trips. She downloaded educational apps that have helped Natalia master her ABCs, learn shapes and colours, and solve puzzles, even learn some Spanish, putting her ahead of other kids at daycare.


But Dubon also noticed Natalia was craving the iPad more and more.


“She’ll drop whatever she’s doing, whether she’s watching her favourite shows or eating cookies or reading a book, and take it from me,” said the Surrey mom.


Dubon’s experience is all too common. Many parents let their young children use a tablet or smartphone, and more kids are becoming iPad pros even before they can talk.


In the U.K., a four-year-old girl believed to be the country’s youngest iPad addict has been getting treatment at a rehab centre specializing in digital addiction.


The Canadian Paediatric Society says kids younger than two should not be indulging in any screen-based activities, including TV, computer, and mobile devices. The association recommends older kids spend no more than one or two hours a day glued to a screen.


But Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist based in Sechelt, said kids today are in front of screens four to five times that amount.


“Overuse is an issue,” she said. “Tech is very addicting. Never in the history of humankind do we have kids with addictions, and now one in 11 kids (age eight to 18) are addicted to technology. This is the tip of the iceberg here.”


iPads, tablets and smartphones are especially alluring because they can be taken anywhere to entertain, pacify, or distract kids, she noted.


Experts say there is no doubt kids can benefit from tech devices, but they caution that use should be in moderation. Overuse, especially in a child’s first two years when the brain undergoes rapid development, can contribute to developmental delays. It can affect socialization, speech, and motor skills.


“You are losing social development that’s important, like non-verbal communication and physical interaction,” said Vancouver psychologist Dr. Joti Samra, an SFU adjunct professor with a private practice in Yaletown.


Kids brought up with iPads and their one-swipe access could also fail to learn about delayed gratification, she said.


“You put something in front of a child that can easily access everything they want or need, that important life skill is not being fostered in the way it would be.”


Both Rowan and Samra said if your child can use the tablet for a short time, then put it down and play with other toys or go outside, then all is well. But if they start reaching for the device at the exclusion of other toys, throwing tantrums, or stop engaging in other kinds of play, then there may be a problem.


Rowan said it boils down to the adults. She recommends parents establish time limits for iPad use or ‘tech Sabbaths,’ banning tech use for a set period of time and replacing it with a family activity. She also said parents should walk the walk themselves, limiting their own use.


The most simple advice, she said, is for parents to switch off their screens and play with their kids.


“Basic, right? But that’s the way to go,” said Rowan. “We’ve lost our way here. We need to get back to play.”


Dubon said she has limited her daughter’s iPhone access from daily to a couple of times a week. She and her husband have stopped using it in front Natalia, who is now more occupied with preschool, books and puzzles.


“As long as you know when is the right time and place,” she said. “Now it’s more on a need-to basis.”



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