Swipe To Unlock: Children As Young As 2-Years-Old Know How To Use Touchscreen Technology

Screen time
Children as young as 2 can use touchscreens adeptly. r. nial bradshaw CC BY 2.0

Technology has become incredibly prevalent in our daily lives. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 91 percent of adults own a smartphone. And as more adults give their children access to their touchscreen devices, more of them are becoming adept at using them from a very young age.

A small study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood has found children as young as 2 are proficient in navigating touchscreen technology. That’s despite a warning from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) that children under this age should have limited amounts of “ screen time,” or time spent watching television, using smartphones, and engaging in other forms of digital entertainment.  

For the study, researchers gathered responses to a questionnaire on touch-screen use from the parents of 82 children aged 1 to 3. The questionnaire asked parents if their child could swipe on the device, unlock it, actively search for features using the touchscreen, and identify the apps they were looking for.

Eighty-seven percent of the parents said they let their children use their device for an average total of 15 minutes per day. Of those parents, 62 percent said they had downloaded an app specifically for their child. When their children finally got their hands on the device, 91 percent of them were able to swipe across the screen, while about 43 percent could unlock the device, and 64 percent were able to seek out the touchscreen features.  

The average age of the children who could complete these tasks was 24 months. At 25 months, 72 percent of the children were also able to find and identify a specific feature they wanted to use. The researchers also found 19 of the children were able to perform all four tasks before they reached 3 years old.

Though such proficiency at using touchscreen devices may cause concern for some parents, the study’s authors believe the way the kids used these devices could be a new form of playing. As fun as it may be let your child play “ Angry Birds,” the AAP recommends they spend their screen time using educational apps. Although there are more than 80,000 apps listed as educational, the AAP says an “interactive product requires more than ‘pushing and swiping’ to teach.” Common Sense Education, a website that reviews age-appropriate apps for kids and their families, can help.  

"Touchscreen platforms, when used to their strengths, present many features which differentiate them from other forms of media and offer the potential for more positive effects,” the researchers concluded. “ Interactive touch screen applications offer a level of engagement not previously experienced with other forms of media and are more akin to traditional play. This opens up the potential application of these devices for both assessment of development and early intervention in high-risk children."

Source: Murray, D, et al. Touch-screen technology usage in toddlers. Archives of Disease in Childhood . 2015.

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