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How early should toddlers play with tablets? Study may surprise you

by Randee Dawn /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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If you're wondering if it's OK for your young child to play with a tablet, a new study out of the University of London has a surprising — and controversial — answer.

"Tablets should be part of a baby's world from birth," says Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, who is heading up the study. She spoke with the London Times and added, "It is shocking how fast they learn, even faster than adults to do things like scroll up and down text."

Toddler using a tablet.
Toddler on a highchair reading a tablet.moreimages / Shutterstock

The University of London study watched a small group of babies aged 6-10 months and found number recognition was higher after they were shown digits on a tablet. "Everything we know about child development tells us that tablet computers should not be banned for babies and toddlers," Karmiloff-Smith noted.

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Perhaps not everything. Her findings fly in the face of advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP says that parents should have "screen-free" zones for kids, and that children and teens shouldn't spend more than one to two hours each day with "entertainment media." Infants and children under 2 interact better with people than screens, adds the AAP, and recommends no TV or entertainment media for those ages. (Tablets/iPads are not specified in the AAP's recommendations.)

Boston University School of Medicine researchers released a study in January that echoed the AAP's recommendations, noting that parents should delay giving gadgets to kids since they can be "detrimental to the social-emotional development of the child."

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Yet while one study recommends gadgets and the other says they are harmful, they are coming to separate conclusions, it appears: Karmiloff-Smith's study is about learning and appears to say little about social development, while most other studies seem to focus on young people's socialization, along with learning.

Perhaps we'll know more in the coming months and years: Karmiloff-Smith and staff are expanding their research, now examining hundreds of babies and toddlers — some of whom are, in fact, getting their tablets from birth.

Follow Randee Dawn on Google+ and Twitter.

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