Psychologist: Giving your kid an iPad is ‘child abuse’


Surely it would be worse to give your kid an Android tablet?
Photo: The Bump

Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use an iPad at home for fear that they would become technology addicts.

According to a leading child psychologist it’s a whole lot more serious than that, however — giving very young children an iPad to play with may be “tantamount to child abuse.”

Describing it as “playing Russian roulette with their development,” Dr. Richard House (sadly not played by Hugh Laurie) argues that that the electronic images seen on an iPad screen can result in children having “an indirect and distorted experience of the world.”

“To confuse children when they have hardly begun to get a handle on this world, by introducing them to virtual, techno-magical worlds, is surely an absurd reversal of the natural order of things,” he continued.

“If this is the case with adults, how much more is it relevant to young children whose brains are still at very early stages of development. It seems that the arrogance of modern technology (together with ruthless commercialism) knows no bounds. On the basis of what I’ve argued here, giving iPads to babies is tantamount to child abuse.”

Personally speaking, it’s a fascinating debate — but one I’d like to see some more empirical research for. It’s also more than a bit annoying to see iPads singled-out as if they were the only tablets on the market, even if this does demonstrate how ubiquitous Apple’s device has become.

Dr. House is far from the only person to talk about the effect of tablets on children, or to single out Apple products.

Members of the UK’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers have previously claimed that addiction to iPad and iPhones mean that kids aged between 3 and 4 have no problem swiping a screen, but have trouble understanding real space, and possess “little or no” dexterity in their fingers.

In late 2013, the toy manufacturer Fisher-Price came under fire for selling a newborn-to-toddler “apptivity” baby seat, which came with an in-built iPad holder.

Among older children, overexposure to these kinds of technologies have supposedly “eroded” children’s memories to the point that they are unable to complete traditional pen and paper exams.

I have no doubt whatsoever that parents should rely on more than just iPads to entertain their children (see: human contact), but blaming “techno-magical worlds” for reversing “the natural order of things” sounds a bit too much like blaming real-world violence on video games or comic books for my money.

Do you have kids and, if so, do you let them use tablets, smartphones and the like? Leave your comments below.

Source: The Sun





  • Serenak

    OMG we are all DOOMED – (see video games in my youth, TV in my childhood, comic books a generation before that… I think I can find a piece by Roman writers on the delinquency of youth and the moral decline of the nation etc etc). Radio was going to ruin reading skills, TV take away conversation skills… blah blah blah.
    All my children have grown up with whatever tech we could muster. Desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, etc. Now – I have never used those as a substitute for all the other things in life, but my children can out “computer” most of their teachers etc with their eyes closed. In the modern world being tech and ‘net savvy is a major life skill. Like language and many other things we pick those up best the sooner we start.
    If there is one thing that I do see that seems somewhat pernicious it is the way ADULTS can become so immersed in their gadgets they sit around “socialising” by all staring into their phones on Twitter and FB. I don’t see my kids doing that – why? Because to them the Phone/Tablet/Laptop/Internet isn’t “magical” or “fascinating” any more than the Radio, or the TV, or landline or the books on the shelf. They are just there, part of life… accepted as “normal” in the same way we all accept things that were there before we were born. Whereas many adults are awed and amazed and bedazzled by all this stuff – because we never had any of it… We grew up with one TV in the living room that had maybe 4 channels if you were lucky… and perhaps a landline phone. It is all new and fabulous to us in the way my grandfather was always in awe of aeroplanes and motor cars – he grew up in an age of steam ships and horse drawn vehicles.
    Like all things MODERATION is the point – would you let your children watch TV for 18 hours straight? Or play on the Xbox for that time? Read a book? Same goes for the PC/Phone/Tablet/Watch/Internet etc etc.
    Child abuse is violence, mistreatment, neglect and a hundred other vile and repugnant things. Giving them access to all the experiences that our amazing modern world has to offer isn’t one of them.

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    • Exactly my dad said in his time they said radio and tv were going to take them to hell.

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    • Jim Cahill

      I mostly agree with Serenek. We humans are very resilient, adaptable, creative, etc. Being tech savvy is a definite plus in the world we live in. But babies of the age shown in the picture have no need of an iPad. Let kids first develop some basic motor skills and familiarity with the physical world and dealing with other human beings. And get them reading (and slobbering all over) books, not iPads.

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  • JVB

    So called “experts” always overreact. I remember growing up in the late 60’s early 70’s when it was said by these “experts” that TV was bad for children, blah blah blah.

    • those children are parents and look how the world is now…

    • They were right JVB. Have a look in the mirror. And you are one of the last of those who can read and write. Most of the TV generation are still slobbering on their couches over Monday Night Football or the baseball game.

      • JVB

        That’s for damn sure. Plus one of the last generation who can still write in cursive. My cursive is ugly, but I still know how to do it.

      • I would go out and meet real people rather than tabloid stereotypes, all my kids are smarter than their educated parents and embraced technology completely. I prefer real-world examples of outcomes.

      • mindbomb2000

        I agree, technology can be good, and should be embraced. I would be willing to bet that you also interacted with your kids and that you encouraged them to do more than just play games on the devices. The problem is, I see so many parents that just use these things as a substitute for their own laziness as parents.

  • Brady Wurtz

    i have a 6 month year old. I don’t let her use the ipad or play with it, and i’m constantly trying to keep her away from seeing me use my phone ever. Once the screen comes on with the bright colored apps, her eyes go right to it and she can’t concentrate on anything else.

    i’m not saying you’re doomed for having them see or use them, but i do make it a point to myself to try and focus her attention on eye contact and playing with physical objects on the floor and in the room.

  • My three year old has been using an iPad for around a year. It’s his bedtime treat (watching YouTube or playing Temple Run, in the main), and is allowed to use my iPhone when he’s finished his meal and my wife and I have yet to do so.

    I believe it will play a large part in preparing him for the world in which he will grow up. Sounds crazy, but playing Temple Run has given him reflexes and forward thinking most three year olds don’t possess.

    THAT SAID…I do worry about other areas of his development such is his understandable love of the iPad and iPhone. He doesn’t draw, which I think he should, for example. He does read himself, to a point, though he isn’t interested in me reading to him, which is a shame and possibly a negative, But he knew his letters well before any other kids his age. He also has NO PROBLEM mixing with other children and is very social, so no worries there.

    Overall, I think there are positives and negatives to it and, like everything in life, if it’s allowed in moderation children will benefit from their use.

  • bdkennedy

    My friend doesn’t allow her kids near tablets or phones. They are also the only ones in the neighborhood playing outside.

  • disqus_cPY18PHtfD

    This is not a new discussion. There has always been something new and scary that experts don’t know how it will impact development, and they attribute an unknown outcome with negative implications. “Children will develop differently because they have iPads now, compared to me who only had a tv with three channels!” Well, yeah. I hope that the newest generations of humans in the developed world have an advanced grasp on technology. Otherwise you end up being like the girl i met in college whose family didn’t believe the internet was safe for her development. She got to college and had to start from scratch, learning how the technology works. If my parents didn’t let me play with their cell phones and computers in the late 90s and early 2000s, I wouldnt have the career I have or the passions in technology that I thoroughly enjoy.

    Parents seem to think that their child, if given the right stimuli, will become a Steve Jobs, Beethoven, and Jane Goodall all wrapped in one. But the reality is that your child has about 20 years to develop a grasp on technology, social interaction, emotional intelligence, and art/culture. You aren’t going to break them by letting them see your iPad, in moderation, but also dont go overboard and let the iPad be your go-to babysitter or driving distraction. And if you notice an unhealthy habit forming, guess what. Youre the parent! make the environmental change and take the iPad away. Teach your children to do something else and be entertained in a variety of ways.

    I’m probably speaking from the unsympathetic and overly idealistic view of a 20-something who doesnt have kids, but it seems like if you use the radio/television/shoppingmall/videogames/iphone/ipad as a go-to parenting management device, you’re going to have a weird kid, no matter what decade we live in.

  • Sabrina

    You have got to be kidding me. My youngest has had an iPad since she could hold one. I her let play maybe an hour or so a day on it. Some days she doesn’t even play it at all. She’s 4yrs old knows her alphabet, can spell, and read. She also plays outside and can draw and write with pencils markers, crayons, etc… If you give your kid an iPad and walk away and that IS all they do of course they’re gonna want it. People need to stop blaming technology for they’re parenting issues and laziness. My oldest is just has had one since she was 4. Because of this technology she can speak three languages at 7 years old. She is top of her class. Like with anythung it needs to be monitored, do not let them play all day. The problem with today’s kids is there is no discipline. You think taking away their phone is going to do it? Okkkayyy. Look in the mirror before you start blaming technology.

  • wolfshades

    This is hysterical nonsense. If letting your toddler play with an iPad constitutes abuse, then so does putting them down in front of a TV set.

    • Tonysings38

      Bottom line, and moral of the story… Parents should be PARENTING.

      • Define PARENTING

      • WilburPost

        I’ll take this one, Tony. “Parenting” is taking responsibility for the guidance, education, and upbringing of your childen. In the context of this article, “parenting” is important decision-making about how much you’re willing to expose your children to a highly-immersive/addictive virtual world at a time in their lives when job #1 in their development should be about exploring their real world.

      • Tonysings38

        Amen. Thanks, Wibur!

  • stationstops

    I worked in EduTech for several years, and paid attention to opinions and research on this subject, especially since I was also a parent of two young children at the time, and as an iOS developer, there were plenty of devices around the house.

    First off, there is no empirical research cited here, so keep in mind its simply a qualified opinion.

    In studies I’ve heard of, the conclusion is that the presense of a device and screen are completely irrelevant and/or inconclusive – all that is relevant is *what the experience your child is having with the device* – and what experience it is *replacing*.

    Are they using an educational app, watching cartoons on YouTube, or other?

    Would they normally be playing with old-school toys, outside with friends, watching TV, or other if they werent using the device?

    This answer takes a tremendous amount of honesty from the parent.

    Finally, ‘reality’ is relevant. Devices and their ubiquitous use *are* new, massive parts of our reality – they are not outside of it in any way. Whenever we have a new technology disruption, we consider it unnatural – until its not. So while a child using an iPad might not have been part of Dr Dormehl’s childhood reality, it is absolutely a part of 21st century reality.

    Of course, every generation considers its own childhood experience as the standard-bearer, generations before it naiive, and generations after functionally broken – its the nature of our species.

    The iPad is the first toy in history which is *exactly* the same as the adult product. Its not a toy lawn mower, or kitchen, or bulldozer – its the same device mom and dad use every day – the skills learned on the iPad will be a fundemental skill used increasingly over the child’s lifetime, and both of my children’s schools are 1:1 iPad: Child starting at K.

    So, his opinion matters due to his background – but there are multiple opinions, plus empirical and anecdotal evidence – and parents should evaluate as much information as possible and make their own decisions.

    PS – Statistically, whether a parent lets their child use a device is directly corrolated to the parent’s personal skill level with technology. The more skilled the parent technologically, the more time they allow their children to have with technology.

    Did I mention our country is drastically behind in STEM skills and a kid who builds a clock and brings it to school is arrested?

  • josephz2va

    We’ve been ‘child abuse’ing our kids with this method since 1960 when Saturday Morning Cartoons and 1983 Nintendo existed and they’re catching on today with the iPad? Wake up time Psychologist. Ever since entertaining our children existed they’re been going through this and our education has fallen severely.

  • Sme of it is true

  • I’m not sure what the psychologists native tongue is but he seems to be talking bollocks.

  • mindbomb2000

    I agree with most others here that Dr. House is over reacting. However, a tablet, phone or TV/videogame used as a reward, or as a babysitter is a terrible way to parent. And I see it WAY too often. Look at all the very young kids in cars and restaurants staring at screens, completely disengaged from the surrounding world. Yes, it CAN be okay if you interact with your child during these activities and keep it in moderation. I loved to read, and would read to my kids every night, it was used as a treat, and they quickly developed a love for reading (and still do as young adults). When they misbehaved, I took their books. When they were bored, we would make up stories. It was fun, and I got to know my kids, and they got to know me.

    That being said, there are some great apps that encourage imagination and interaction, so I’m not against mobile devices per se… just their overuse as a placebo for lazy parents.

  • Pedro

    One of the IT departments jokes where I worked 40 years ago was that the child of the future wouldn’t have to know how to read and write, they’d have to know how to run the machine that reads and writes. We’re not quite there yet; although more parenting and better funding of public education system wouldn’t hurt.

  • Ryan Villanueva

    I usually take these studies with a grain of salt. I work as an administrator in a grade school and it seems that even the iPad and video game addicted kids do just as well academically as those who’s playtime has been limited or banned by their parents. Though I did notice that those who’s exposure to iPads, Xboxes, and Playstations have been limited seem to be more aware of their surroundings, have better concentration in the classroom, and tend to be more sociable in general. So there is truth in these studies.

    However I think the disadvantage of being addicted to gadgets is not as overwhelming as they lead us to believe. I think the bigger contribution of a child’s development is how who much love and care they get from their parents and family. I grew up playing Nintendo and PC games for most of my younger days and despite of my disadvantage I think I’m doing just alright because I have a good family environment and good parents. Same with my friends who are now successful in what they do and they were also video game kids.

  • herbaled

    Having obese children could also be considered child abuse, because they are much more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease, and to have a much shorter lifespan.

  • WilburPost

    The author would like to see more empirical evidence before being convinced one way or the other. Agreed. Until such evidence exists, who wants to use their children as guinea pigs? They’ll get more than their fair share of technology when they’re older. Until the verdict is in on whether this screws up the brains of babies, let them live analog and experience the real thing.

  • liz

    I think that every time you put your kid in front of a screen instead of reading with them, doing a puzzle, coloring, or simply conversing takes away valuable developmental time that cannot be recovered

  • Tina

    I have a 2 yr old son & am a special Ed teacher. I would never let my son use an iPad or play with my phone. The brain develops 90% the first 3 years of life. Kids need authentic tactile, auditory & visual stimuli. The images on screens- tv, computer, phones, tablets – interfere with that growth. It hurts their stamina, how they solve problems & gives them less ability to observe the real world. Just wait until they are 4. The absolute worst is seeing kids playing with their parents phones at the grocery store. Kids need to cope on those boring errands in order to be patient adults.

  • Steve Smith

    I presume he was dropped on the head as a child. Of course overexposure is bad – that’s what it means! Using technology as an educational aid, on the other hand, is only child abuse in the same way that watching television at all 60 years ago was called the same thing.