Last December, while spending time with a classroom full of inner-city children, I struck up a conversation with 4-year-old twin boys. They proudly told me that they had each received a tablet for a Christmas gift. I was duly impressed – and alarmed.

According to today’s New York Times, my alarm was justified, but my surprise was not. Apparently, it’s not an unusual occurrence for youngsters to own their own tablet or electronic device:  

A small survey of parents in Philadelphia found that three-quarters of their children had been given tablets, smartphones or iPods of their own by age 4 and had used the devices without supervision, researchers reported on Monday.

The survey was not nationally representative and relied on self-reported data from parents. But experts say the surprising result adds to growing evidence that the use of electronic devices has become deeply woven into the experience of childhood.

The survey also found that children:

  • Used multiple devices simultaneously.
  • Often used devices at bedtime.
  • Generally used devices for entertainment purposes more than educational.

Should we be alarmed by these results? A number of pediatric experts say yes:

In this sample, “a lot of media time is reportedly alone,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. “It can’t be overstated: Children need laps more than apps.”

Professor Hirsh-Pasek lamented parents’ laissez-faire attitude about toddlers’ play with tablets. “Who would leave the dessert on the table and leave their kid alone with it?” she said.

It’s a good point.  As the New York Times reported last year, the heads of many tech companies exercise a lot of oversight of their children’s use of electronics. Should other parents do the same?

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