August 18, 2013

Proving apps make babies smarter is no child's play

The toy industry defends its marketing of mobile technology for children against complaints that there is little evidence of benefits.

By CECILIA KANG The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

Frankie Thevenot
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Playing with an iPad is more interactive than watching TV, and child development experts are divided over whether that makes mobile technology any better for young children.

The Associated Press

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An image from the Fisher-Price website shows Laugh & Learn mobile apps, which the company says teach babies colors, shapes, letters and numbers. A complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission alleges that Fisher-Price can’t back up those claims. Fisher-Price says research goes into all its toys.

The Associated Press

At the center of the FTC complaint is Fisher-Price's claim that the app "teaches letters A-Z, numbers & counting 1-10, shapes, colors and action/re-action."

"I'm always telling companies not to promise outcomes but rather to talk about what inputs they can provide," said David Kleeman, a toy industry consultant and senior fellow at the Fred Rogers Center, which is focused on media and children.

"Once you say an app can make your kid smarter or read sooner, you are doing two bad things," Kleeman said. "You are making promises you can't keep, because you can't control the environment of the child, and you are preying on parents' guilt."

Analysts are divided over the long-term impacts of the explosion in mobile technology. Some child development experts have issued warnings, recommending that parents reduce screen time, especially for toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against TV viewing for children under 2.

But others say mobile technology is different from TV because it is more interactive and, at times, requires thinking and problem solving.

The recommendation from the pediatrics association does not account for mobile devices, noted Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Washington whose research was cited in the CCFC's complaint against Baby Einstein, which is now controlled by Walt Disney.

Christakis said the jury is still out on mobile apps.

"Science has not kept up with the pace of technology, and the iPad may be more than just a screen like a TV or DVD screen," he said. "It is interactive and has a lot of differences, but the truth is there is no evidence that it is beneficial. It's just too early to say."


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