Babies and toddlers don’t learn much from television programs, much though Baby Einstein would have you believe otherwise. TV watching can actually be harmful for infants and toddlers, as its viewing is linked to delayed speech and sleep disturbances. There hasn’t been as much research on how young iPad interaction affects the developing brain, but initial studies indicate that it can increase vocabulary and keep toddlers placated for hours at a time.
The iPad is an excellent console for toddlers: it responds to intuitive touches and its presence is immediate—unlike a TV which is often several feet away and easy to look away from. The iPad’s ability to keep toddlers’ attention is both its boon and its downside. iPad apps replicate flow so well that a toddler can’t tear herself away. But there’s an important difference between play with physical objects and play with the iPad:
The child decides when a building is finished; an app determines when the task is completed correctly. Researchers say it’s unclear whether this difference has any impact on a child.
For now, parents should use common sense and moderation in their toddlers’ iPad media consumption. Except for on airplane rides, where a trance-like state in any child is welcome.