Very young children, like many of their parents, can become totally absorbed with mobile touch-screen devices. Some argue that compared to the essentially passive activity of watching television, children and even toddlers using i-Pads, i-Phones, Androids and other kinds of touch-screen devices can have a far more stimulating, positive and educational experience. But parents and their children are way ahead of any research: No one can say for sure how using this technology shapes developing brains,if at all. Please join us for a conversation on young children and touch-screen devices.


  • Lisa Guernsey Director, Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation
  • Ben Worthen Reporter, Wall Street Journal
  • Heather Kirkorian Assistant professor, human development and family studies, University of Wisconsin , Madison
  • Liz Perle Editor in chief, Common Sense Media `


  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It's not unusual today to see young kids playing with iPads, iPhones and all kinds of touch-screen devices. The harried parent might be grateful for the distraction, but there's an underlying question. What's all this screen time doing to these young developing brains?

  • 10:07:23

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me here in the studio to talk about toddlers and technology: Lisa Guernsey of the New America Foundation, joining me from a studio in San Francisco, Ben Worthen of The Wall Street Journal and Liz Perle of Common Sense Media and, by phone from Madison, Wis., Heather Kirkorian. She is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin. I'm sure many of you will want to weigh in. Join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.

  • 10:08:16

    MS. LISA GUERNSEYGood morning, Diane. It's great to be here.

  • 10:08:18

    MR. BEN WORTHENGood morning.

  • 10:08:19

    MS. LIZ PERLEGood morning.

  • 10:08:20

    REHMBen, let me start with you. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, you had a piece titled "What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an iPad?" Tell us a little about why you decided to write about this.

  • 10:08:41

    WORTHENYeah, well, I have two small children, a son who's now four. And when he was 2 1/2, he and I went on a plane trip together, and I was very afraid of what was going to happen. He was going to freak out or so forth on the plane. So I borrowed an iPad, and I loaded it up with, you know, games and drawing apps and little shows for him, handed it to him when we got in the air.

  • 10:09:04

    WORTHENAnd, for five hours, he just stood there -- sat there, transfixed by, you know, the different things that he could do. And when we got off the plane -- it pretty much sums up still my feelings about this device -- I thought, you know, this is amazing. What happened? And it wasn't just the fact that I was able to sit on the plane and work and read for the first time in -- since he was born. But, you know, there was something that could actually contain him and hold his attention for five hours straight.

  • 10:09:32


  • 10:09:35

    WORTHENSo it wasn't until a year later that we actually bought an iPad for ourselves, and we gave it to him. And, right away, his interest in letters and words picked up, I believe, as a result of the word and letter games that he played. He would do these puzzles as well. But my wife and I noticed something else, which was that it seemed to make him whiny. Again, this isn't something that we have a real measure of, but it was really what we perceived.

  • 10:09:59

    WORTHENAnd taking it away from him became a real challenge to the point where it was a struggle. Sometimes I'd even have to put my hands on it and go back and forth with a little 4 year old at that point, trying to pull it away. So I really wanted to find out what was happening. You know, he'd gone to this state where you'd call his name and he wouldn't respond to it, or you could snap your fingers in front of his face.

  • 10:10:20


  • 10:10:22

    WORTHENAnd what is that? We were worried about it.

  • 10:10:25

    REHMHe was kind of in a trance?

  • 10:10:29

    WORTHENIt seemed that way, yeah, you know. You could do whatever you wanted. He had no idea what was going on around him, so...

  • 10:10:34


  • 10:10:36

    WORTHENYeah. So we didn't know what that was, and I was trying to find out what was happening. And so I just began to look into the topic. And the first thing I really learned is that there's no research on what happens to a little kid when they use a touch-screen device like an iPad.

  • 10:10:49

    REHMBen Worthen, he is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Turning to you now, Lisa Guernsey, you've written a book titled "Screen Time: How Electronic Media -- From Baby Videos to Educational Software -- Affects Your Young Child." So would you say that Ben's little boy -- that his experience was sort of normal?

  • 10:11:18

    GUERNSEYI think so. And as a mother of two young ones, especially of quite young, when I was writing the first edition of that book, I really relate to what Ben's describing there. I will say that we need to get to a place in research where we can make a distinction between kind of zoning out and in a trance and actual engagement because we may be finding that what's happening is that young children, they may seem to us on the outside world to be kind of zombies.

  • 10:11:48

    GUERNSEYBut, actually, there's a lot of activity going on in their brains. There's a lot that they're working through as they're using these devices. But the content of them may be a really big driver of that, and we have to make some distinctions between what these young children are seeing and playing with when they're using them. And we haven't done anywhere near the number of studies that need to be done to get at that question yet.

  • 10:12:10

    REHMIs there any indication that for these young toddlers who use these devices that they may learn letters or numbers or identify places more quickly?

  • 10:12:26

    GUERNSEYCertainly, there's not any peer-reviewed research that would lead us to that conclusion for very young children, for, say, toddlers up to age 3. But what we are seeing are some small studies that are trying to get at different types of learning and if there's a difference, for instance, between being able to learn from passive video versus interactive video on a -- in a, say, a touch-screen environment versus a face-to-face interaction with somebody.

  • 10:12:55

    GUERNSEYAnd one study that just came out of Georgetown University looked at that question with 2 1/2 year olds and 3 year olds and found that the interactive environment and the face-to-face environment did lead to some learning, some ability to kind of transfer what was learned on the screen to a real world situation...

  • 10:13:16


  • 10:13:17

    GUERNSEY...but not in a passive video environment.

  • 10:13:19

    REHMAnd now, turning to you, Liz Perle, as editor in chief of Common Sense Media, I gather your organization did a study not too long ago on the number of toddlers and very young children who are using these devices. How large a number are we talking about?

  • 10:13:42

    PERLEWell, your talking about even six months ago when we did the study, you know, it's moving at warp speed.

  • 10:13:48


  • 10:13:48

    PERLEBut even then, more than half of kids, zero to 8, had access to -- it's not necessarily an iPad. It could be, you know, an iPhone when it's not a great teething device. I've seen that in an airport, too. So this is really the environment our kids are growing up in.

  • 10:14:06

    REHMSo everybody is using it, is what you're saying, in various ways.

  • 10:14:14

    PERLEYeah. I mean, there are socioeconomic differences, but, yes, the smartphone and the tablet is entering schools in places where people don't have them at homes. And it's happening so fast.

  • 10:14:30

    REHMAnd now, turning to you, Heather Kirkorian, I know that, as we've already heard, lots of parents and their young children are using these devices. So is there any research underway?

  • 10:14:53

    PROF. HEATHER KIRKORIANWell, that's a really good question. And as others have alluded to, there's really no research at all to go on. So we know some things like the Common Sense Media report how often kids are using these devices and what kinds of things they're doing. But we know virtually nothing about the potential impact of these touch-screen devices, either for good or ill. So we don't know if they're educationally valuable, and we don't know if they can cause any harm.

  • 10:15:17

    REHMDo you have any sense of the difference between what happens when a very young child watches television versus interacting with one of these devices?

  • 10:15:33

    KIRKORIANSure. So we don't know a whole lot about things like what's going on in the brain when they're using these kinds of devices. We know a lot about what kids are doing mentally when they're watching television. And at least by 2 or 2 1/2 years of age, kids are very cognitively active when they're watching TV, so they're making a lot of inferences or processing the information. They're learning information. Whether that's good or bad information, that depends on the content.

  • 10:15:56

    KIRKORIANBut a lot of that will depend on the context in which they're watching and the types of things that they're watching in terms of determining the impact. But for touch-screen devices, we have very little information. We can guess that perhaps they're even more cognitively active because they have some control over that environment, and that might be particularly useful for very young kids, kids before 2 1/2 or 3 years of age. But, again, there's no research, so we really don't know what's going on yet.

  • 10:16:25

    REHMIs a child who's watching television likely to look away more frequently than a child who's using one of these devices, Heather?

  • 10:16:39

    KIRKORIANThat's another really good question. So we know that, from infancy up to adulthood, we look at and away from the TV screen very often when we're watching. And we're usually not aware of it because we look away for very short periods of time, but we do look away very often. For touch-screens, we have no idea. And, again, we can guess that perhaps kids are more engaged when they have control over that interaction. And they might continue to look at the screen for longer periods of time, but that's something that we just we don't know for sure yet.

  • 10:17:09

    REHMSo, Lisa, when you want young children looking at television or looking at an iPad, what differences do you see?

  • 10:17:19

    GUERNSEYWell, it really depends on the age of the child. And that's one of the things that I think is so tricky for parents. So, you know, kids grow really fast. And so at 2 years of age, they might be doing something very different than they are at 3. Just anecdotally right now -- and I think this is really most of what we have to go on -- we are finding that children really like the seamless kind of interactivity of the touch-screen devices.

  • 10:17:43

    GUERNSEYThat's easier for them to engage with what's happening on the screen. There had been attempts to have a study how very young children interact with computers in the past, but the barrier was always the fact that they had to learn how to use a mouse or figure out a joystick. And there were these kinds of physical motor skill problems that were always clouding what we could really find out.

  • 10:18:03

    REHMAnd now, all they have to do is touch.

  • 10:18:06

    GUERNSEYExactly. Now, that has really been erased. And so we're at a very momentous time where there's a lot we could maybe learn about what children are capable of because those physical barriers are gone. But, at the same time, we can't forget that the interaction that they're having with parents is so important.

  • 10:18:27

    REHMLisa Guernsey, director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, author of the book titled, "Screen Time: How Electronic Media -- From Baby Videos to Educational Software -- Affects Your Young Child."

  • 10:20:04

    REHMIf you just joined us, we're talking about very young children and their interactivity -- if that's what it can be called at very young ages -- with mobile devices. We're talking about phones and iPads and Androids, and all those many, many devices that are out there and available not only to parents, but to children. Here's an email from Brian, who says, "My son is almost 2. We have a castoff iPhone we've given him with a handful of interactive games on it."

  • 10:20:48

    REHM"He now navigates the phone, plays games without help from us. He's become quite proficient at memory and matching games, simple puzzles and others. His phone is a privilege. We trade off between that and playing with blocks and other non-electronic toys. I think the phone is a great learning tool for him and a godsend for his mother and me." Ben Worthen, what's been your experience since that first exposure?

  • 10:21:28

    WORTHENYeah, well, we had some similar experiences as well to that parent who wrote in. You know, my son, again, he would do these puzzle apps, and he'd do these word games. But, you know, we ended up actually taking the iPad away for -- from him largely because, you know, this example, this thing we were talking about, about zoning out. Now, he would do that, and my wife and I would stare at him and think, oh, my God, his brain is going to turn to mush and come oozing out of his ears. And it concerned us a bit.

  • 10:21:56

    WORTHENI subsequently learned that -- people have pointed out to me, well, like, what does he do when he's playing with his LEGOs or painting? And we go, well, yes, he zones out and is unresponsive. But we look at him, and we think that we're the greatest parents ever because we have an, you know, enterprising young kid who can play with LEGOs forever. You know, what I've learned is that there are some subtle differences.

  • 10:22:15

    WORTHENWhen he's building a LEGO structure, he's in control of the experience. He decides when it ends. He decides when something is good. Whereas an app on the iPad will dictate for him when he's completed a level or when he's accomplished something correctly. But it, by no means, clear how that difference has, if any, impact on a kid.

  • 10:22:34

    REHMMm hmm.

  • 10:22:38

    WORTHENSo, you know, I mean, one of the things that's fascinating to me as a parent about the iPad is that, you know, it's not a TV, but you can watch a TV show. It's not a video game, but you can play video games on it. It's not a puzzle, but you can do a puzzle app. I mean, what's the difference between doing a puzzle app and doing a puzzle in real life...

  • 10:22:54


  • 10:22:55

    WORTHEN...or reading a book and reading a book on the iPad, you know?

  • 10:23:01

    REHMSo, Liz Perle, how would you answer that question? What is the difference between a video app and, say, LEGOs or doing a puzzle?

  • 10:23:13

    PERLEWell, kids have five senses last time I clocked in.

  • 10:23:18

    PERLEAnd kids are also zero-sum entities. So there's always the opportunity cost of what they're not doing when they're doing something else. And the greatest touch-screen in the world is an adult face in the world of a child, but it doesn't mean that there isn't a place for screen media. I mean, I think that Lisa alluded to it earlier. It's what's on the screen. So you can be playing a completely mindless video game, or you can be playing one that stimulates parts of the brain that allows for word development or school readiness.

  • 10:23:54

    PERLENow, the studies haven't shown definitively that that those things happen with very young kids yet. And I think we all, as parents, have to be a little on the alert for the Baby Einstein parts of our own psyches, that one belief that if we hand our child something, they're going to end up in first grade when they're 4.

  • 10:24:08


  • 10:24:14

    PERLEBut, you know, we don't have the research that says touch-LEGOs are different.

  • 10:24:17


  • 10:24:20

    PERLEWhat we do know is that the child is in charge of the narrative when they're doing their LEGOs or imaginary games or whatever, playing with their dolls or stuffed animals. And the narrative is embedded oft times in the screen and contained for you.

  • 10:24:38

    REHMBut, you know, I think of -- from our own children's childhood, the most important toy of all were simple blocks. And so one would wonder, Heather, whether there's any difference in how brains develop if a child is playing with an iPad or playing with blocks?

  • 10:25:07

    KIRKORIANYeah, that's the question that's still debated pretty heavily, and, with a lack of research, it's hard to answer definitively. So there are some who argue that when children manipulate a 3-D object, like a block, that that stimulates parts of the brain that are otherwise unstimulated and therefore underdeveloped if kids are watching screens or interacting with screens. There are people who claim that. But there's very little research, if any, to actually support that idea.

  • 10:25:34

    KIRKORIANSo I don't think there's any expert who would suggest that kids only play with screens or only look at screens because there are a whole world of experiences they should be having. But whether the brain will actually develop differently or cognitive skills will develop differently because they're doing, as Ben said, a puzzle on a touch-screen versus a three-dimensional puzzle with real pieces, that's really unclear. We just don't know.

  • 10:25:57

    REHMSo all we can do, Lisa, is watch and see, watch and wait until that child grows a bit older.

  • 10:26:07

    GUERNSEYYes. And I found that it helps to have a framework for how to think about this. When I was working on my book, I wanted to provide some advice to myself as a parent who was struggling, but also to others. And so I came up with the three Cs, which is based on decades of research on video interactions with young children, but also applies very much to the interactive world as well. And the three Cs are to pay attention to content. Pay attention to the context of the situation.

  • 10:26:36

    GUERNSEYThere's a real difference between a joint engagement, a book reading activity, a mom and a child together, you know, talking about what's on the pages of that book, whether it's electronic or not, versus a child who's alone with that material and not having that engagement. And then the third C is the child, him or herself, the individual child. And this is why it's so tricky because you have special needs children. You have children of different ages.

  • 10:27:02

    GUERNSEYYou have children growing up in very different households with or without a lot of options for playing outside or playing with blocks or having access to adults who can engage them in new ways. So we can't be monolithic in the way we think about what this interactive media is going to mean to children. We really need parents and educators to be thinking about the three Cs as they make choices.

  • 10:27:22

    REHMAnd, of course, many of today's parents grew up with these video games. Ben, does that include you?

  • 10:27:33

    WORTHENYou know, yeah, I grew up in that era where the, you know, first the Atari and then the Nintendos were coming into households. You know, I didn't personally have those in my house. I would always try to play them every time I'd go to our friend's house, but, frankly, I was terrible at them.

  • 10:27:50

    WORTHENYou know, I guess, I would just say that one of the things that seems complicated to me, going through these decisions that Lisa was outlining as a parent, is that, you know, I don't necessarily know what the difference is between reading a book and reading a book on the iPad to my kid. You know, and I wouldn't have thought there was any difference in talking to some people who are looking into this or beginning to look into this.

  • 10:28:12

    WORTHENYou know, there is a question about, well, is a kid -- when they're touching something, are they learning the content that's in the book? Or are they learning, you know, what you press and what happens when you press certain things? And it's not necessarily that one is good and one is bad, but that they may, in fact, be different.

  • 10:28:31

    WORTHENAnd if they're different, you know, as a parent, I'd want to, you know, certainly, like, I'd try to understand the difference between, you know, giving my son to eat a Twinkie and giving him an apple. You know, it's not necessarily that he shouldn't ever have dessert, but, you know, I don't think I'd want to be giving him dessert for dinner.

  • 10:28:49

    REHMBut is that a fair comparison, Heather?

  • 10:28:55

    KIRKORIANI'm sorry. What was the question?

  • 10:28:56

    REHMIs there a fair comparison between a Twinkie and an apple for dessert?

  • 10:29:04

    KIRKORIANThat's -- you know, that's a good question. I -- people's opinions vary widely on this. I intend to be a glass half-full sort of person, who would like to say there's no evidence at all suggesting that these devices are harmful, whereas, Twinkies, we might have some research suggesting that we definitely don't want to have those every day for dinner. But I think -- and Lisa certainly alluded to this -- that -- and as I said before, no expert would say screens should be used solely as the only activity.

  • 10:29:38

    KIRKORIANObviously, parent-child interaction is extremely important, playing outdoors, being physically active, playing with objects and toys. But I don't think it's a fair comparison yet to say that screens are somehow, especially interactive touch-screens, are somehow less good or more harmful than some kind of 3-D toy that kids are playing with.

  • 10:30:00

    REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones. We've got lots of callers waiting. First to Sarah in Brentwood, N.Y. Good morning to you.

  • 10:30:12


  • 10:30:13

    REHMSarah, go right ahead.

  • 10:30:15

    SARAHHi, Diane, I'm a big fan. I'm so excited to be able to talk with you about this subject.

  • 10:30:17

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:30:19

    SARAHI'm calling as a former elementary school teacher, as a current literacy consultant and as a parent of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. My concern is that when I was in a classroom, I always wanted to teach my students to self-discipline themselves because, as adults, we don't always have a toy being bought for us or an iPad being given to us when we're misbehaving.

  • 10:30:43

    SARAHAnd I think sometimes, as your guest mentioned about the five-hour plane ride, that when parents -- and I see this often -- when parents are trying to quell their children or discipline their children by either giving them an iPad or taking away an iPad as a consequence, I'm not sure that we're really teaching young children how to behave in certain situations without a carrot being dangled in front of them.

  • 10:31:07

    SARAHAnd, additionally, my son, who's now in kindergarten, knows how to -- he's ahead in his reading and ahead in his writing, and he has none of these devices growing up. I am certain that that is because I read to him every night. We shared experiences. We shared discussions. And he understands the power of holding something in his hands, of reading it, of feeling it and then putting it onto his shelf as it's completed, as something that he has been able to read himself.

  • 10:31:38

    SARAHAnd I'm just concerned that as kids get these devices more in their hands, they're becoming less connected to other children, their family, their teachers and things like that.

  • 10:31:50

    REHMAnd less likely or less able to self-stimulate, for example, Lisa.

  • 10:31:58

    GUERNSEYI think this is a really, really important question because what we're getting at right now is self-regulation in young children. And it is not developed when they're born, and it's certainly not developed when they're 2. And it's not there when they're 4 -- and I have elementary school children -- and it's not developed yet, even often with them, right, many adults. We need to help children learn how to occupy themselves, to focus on what they're working on, to know how to follow through on things.

  • 10:32:27

    GUERNSEYAnd we have not yet grappled with this when it comes to the media environment that children are in. So some of it, parents are working through by limit setting, by having ideas around, well, we're going to use this device in this context, but at bedtime it's off. There's going to be all sorts of ways we need to kind of deal with the self-regulation issue.

  • 10:32:48

    REHMLisa Guernsey, director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email on exactly that point, Lisa. It's from Jerry in Cleveland, Ohio, who says, "Our kids are 8 and 9. They've never owned electronic games, toys, iPods, iPads and never will. Too many of our friends' kids are fixated on electronics, to the exclusion of anything else, including reading and play.

  • 10:33:29

    REHM"They complain about it, saying so-and-so has a Nintendo. My answer is always so-and-so is not my child. You are. And if they were, they wouldn't have it. Their only computer time at home is for school or educational games, which are a treat for them. I spend all day at the computer for work, have a smartphone and know firsthand how hard it is to tear myself away from them, to interact with actual people. Some of their classmates have cellphones." Liz Perle, what do you make of that?

  • 10:34:14

    PERLEWell, it's something we hear all the time. And if you hearken back to the days when it was just purely TV and content consumption, one of the things we did at Common Sense Media is we realized that you can't cover kids' eyes. Our job is to help, as parents, as -- and as Common Sense Media, we help parents and teachers help kids to see. And there's a corollary here on the self-regulation issue.

  • 10:34:39

    PERLEIf every time you hand your child an iPad in a restaurant, they're going to make the correlation that, oh, before the burger comes, I'm going to be amused, and I don't have the opportunity to engage. But I think that what Jerry might consider is the fact that these iPads -- and maybe not in 2-year-olds, but as they progress -- these forms of communication teach 21st century skills.

  • 10:35:03

    PERLEAnd they are going -- they're going to be distant learning communication, collaboration skills that are going to be required for successful young adults. How we calibrate when we introduce these skills -- and, again, the self-regulation thing is absolutely key. I've never seen a 2-year-old with an off switch. My 18-year-old still doesn't have one. You know, we just have to help kids learn to regulate themselves.

  • 10:35:29


  • 10:35:29

    PERLEWe teach them at -- about their emotions. We try and teach them about media consumption and to be media-literate. We're going to have to teach children, as an essential part of parenting and education, how to use these very powerful tools in the right time, right place, right manner.

  • 10:35:47

    REHMAll right. To Birmingham, Ala. Epsey, (sp?) you're on the air.

  • 10:35:53

    EPSEYHi, Diane.

  • 10:35:54

    REHMHi there.

  • 10:35:55

    EPSEYI just have a question -- this subject. I find that iPads, iPods, laptops, you know, we all have them in our house. I have teens and preteens, and it just seems very isolating. You know, we could all be in the same room together, but everybody will be plugged in to some device. And it's like we're all in a separate world. And we've made a big effort to tell the kids that, you know, now is not the time. We're doing this. We're not doing that. And has there been any effect shown from this, that it, you know...

  • 10:36:30

    REHMYou know, it's such a good question, and it takes me back to television, when people would sit around fixated on the television, not really communicating, but being there around that TV set. Are these devices different, Lisa?

  • 10:36:51

    GUERNSEYWell, I think there's a lot we have to untangle here because people get very concerned about the substitution effect, the idea that this interaction with this device or with the old-fashioned TV is substituting for face-to-face time. But what we don't always have are studies that confirm that to be the case because it may be that there are children who, in the absence of TV or in the absence of an interactive game, don't necessarily have someone there who's, you know, going to give them a really rich back-and-forth interaction or sit on the floor with them and play blocks.

  • 10:37:26

    REHMLisa Guernsey. She's director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. More on isolation and the application of these devices, when it's good, when maybe it's not so good, when we come back.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMWe're talking about young children, the use of electronic devices, iPads, iPhones. And here's a caller in Charlotte, N.C. Dr. Gulley, (sp?) you're on the air.

  • 10:40:21

    DR. GULLEYOh, great. Thanks, Diane. I just wanted to raise the issue of the radiation from the cellphones and other wireless devices being, you know, put in cribs and handed to small children. I think there's, you know, a serious potential danger there. There's been a lot of controversy about it. Even though the National Cancer Institute, you know, said in July 2001 that there wasn't actually a risk, a lot of people have called that study into question. And the World Health Organization is very concerned about it, putting it in the same category as auto exhaust and as a, you know, potential cancer causing...

  • 10:41:08

    REHMInteresting. Heather Kirkorian, Dr. Gulley's question regarding radiation, and then we have an email concerned about the long-term effect on a child's eyes. What are your thoughts?

  • 10:41:25

    KIRKORIANSo in terms of radiation, my expertise isn't medical science. But my understanding of the research is that that's still very controversial and that there's no solid rigorous scientific evidence suggesting harm. That said, I don't think any expert would criticize a parent for choosing not to use these devices with their small children out of that concern. I certainly advocate for a cautious approach if that's the concern that parents have. And in terms of eye damage, it turns out with television, that's something that our parents always told us.

  • 10:41:54


  • 10:41:56

    KIRKORIANBut since the '50s or '60s, that hasn't really been a concern. So while television screens did emit some low-level radiation when they were first on the market for the public, that hasn't actually been true for many decades.

  • 10:42:10


  • 10:42:11

    KIRKORIANAnd, in fact, often, parents think it's harmful for their kids to have screens close to their faces because, of course, as adults, if we had screens that close to our faces, it would strain our eyes because we'd have to be cross-eyed in order to focus. But, actually, for very small children, their ideal focal distance is much closer to their faces. That's why they tend to sit so close to the screen.

  • 10:42:31

    REHMI see.

  • 10:42:32

    KIRKORIANIt's not actually harmful for their eyes as it would be for an adult.

  • 10:42:35

    REHMOK. Thanks, Dr. Gulley, for your call. Here's a fascinating email from Syria, (sp?) who is in Conroe, Texas. She says, "My son is 4 and autistic. We've seen vast improvement with his language skills since we've given him a tablet with appropriate apps. While the research is yet to be done on the issue with small children, I've spoken with my son's teachers regarding my concerns about the time he uses it.

  • 10:43:16

    REHM"His speech teachers told me she encourages such use because it stimulates his brain in a way that seems to be beneficial to his speech and language skills. I'm concerned he'll miss out on social interaction, which he needs more than most children in order to develop skills he needs to develop. Does your panel have a comment on the tradeoff effect?" Lisa.

  • 10:43:48

    GUERNSEYWell, I looked into autism and technology and some of those connections in my book, and there's, I think, a lot more that's come out since writing about it. We are seeing anecdotal evidence that autistic preschoolers really are engaged very deeply with these interactive technologies and that perhaps the ability to not have to focus on a person's face, which can be confusing and out of some of their developmental range, means that they have the ability to connect more with the content.

  • 10:44:24

    GUERNSEYThere was also a very interesting study out of the U.K. that looked at "Thomas the Tank Engine" as a TV show where there were trains that had faces that showed facial expressions, and autistic children often learned about facial expressions through that show more than they were learning from face-to-face interaction. All of these are just fascinating points, and I think there's a lot we don't know on this. And I would just encourage anyone out there who's in autism research to keep us all posted on what the effects of technology are.

  • 10:44:54

    REHMYou know, that's really fascinating. Liz Perle, any thoughts on that?

  • 10:45:01

    PERLEI remember that "Thomas the Tank Engine" study, and it was really eye-opening. These technologies have such promise for kids with special needs. You know, again, common sense, not all or nothing. But, for the first time, there are programs that help kids interact without the frustrations that they have that act as static in trying to incorporate information the way a different brain might do so.

  • 10:45:28

    PERLEDyslexia, learning issues, there are so many promising developments in these very individualized programs that can be done with kids. Again, scaffolded, they need, you know, they need a teacher, special ed person to do it 'cause they're not going to learn necessarily on their own. But, boy, this is really where the promise of individual education that can -- is subtlety embedded into these technologies can take hold.

  • 10:45:55

    REHMYou know, I'm wondering also about older children who might be autistic and whether there has been any view that they could be helped by use of these devices, Liz.

  • 10:46:16

    PERLEWell, they already are. You see in colleges, for instance, in the old days when laptops were like steamer trunks, you would -- kids were allowed to bring in laptops for people with auditory processing issues, for instance. And now -- there is a wonderful young man that I actually have speak to parents for me from UC Santa Cruz, who's developed an entire system. He can't process auditorily.

  • 10:46:40

    PERLEBut he has developed an entire system on his own, using all these different apps to take down notes, to reprocess them, to collect with other kids and crowdsource information and then return it in a way that's meaningful and useful. That clearly shows he's getting -- learning that he wouldn't have otherwise.

  • 10:46:59

    REHMVery interesting. All right. Let's go to Melvin Village, N.H. Richard has another view. Good morning to you, sir.

  • 10:47:11

    RICHARDHi, Diane. How are you?

  • 10:47:12

    REHMFine, thank you.

  • 10:47:15

    RICHARDMy concern, listening to your callers, it is a great tool. All these things are great tools. All these devices are great if you use them as a tool. But when you use them for play and all kids want to have them, I think it takes away from a kid's memories as a child. As I was a child, we used sticks, and we built huts. And we played with the kids in the neighborhood, and we did all these things that -- you're outdoors.

  • 10:47:46

    RICHARDKids don't go outdoors anymore. They play with these games. And everybody's got a cell phone stuck to their head, even the little kids at bus stops. I just think it's being -- these tools -- these are tools. They're not toys. And that's basically my point.

  • 10:48:01

    REHMBen Worthen, has the use of this device at all affected your little boy's desire to go out and play?

  • 10:48:13

    WORTHENWell, getting them away from the device when he's actually using it, yeah. He doesn't really want to do anything at that point. But, you know, he loves to go outside. He -- you know, we play outside all the time. He will, you know, do other stuff. He's -- kids like to do things, you know? And if you give them an iPad, they like to do an iPad. If you give them blocks, they probably like to do blocks. You know, I think it's a great point, though, that this is a tool and that we need to use it as a tool.

  • 10:48:38

    WORTHENAnd it's something that I am trying to become better at as a parent, making, you know, better -- instead of just saying, wow, I need to make dinner and change the baby's diaper and take a shower, here, play with the iPad, you know, trying to figure out, you know, just think for a second about what it means when I give my son an iPad and make at least a partially informed decision as opposed to just giving it to him. But one of the things that I also want to make sure that I get nervous about myself is that, you know, I didn't grow up with an iPad.

  • 10:49:06

    WORTHENThey didn't exist, you know, when I was kid, let alone, you know, like, two years ago. I don't want to be afraid of the new thing. And I don't want to deprive him of an experience, like Liz was saying, that is going to be an important part of growing up in the modern world, you know, having have these types of skills. And so, you know, I don't want to make the mistake of not teaching my kid to read because they just invented the printing press and I'm afraid what it's going to do.

  • 10:49:35

    REHMInteresting. Lisa.

  • 10:49:37

    GUERNSEYYeah. I think that really resonates with me. There was a really interesting study that I found when I was looking -- working on my book, and it was about how parents viewed media and what that meant to the way children then learned from media because it's all tangled up, right, the way that we model our behavior of how we see media and then that is going to have an influence on what they learned from it. So this one study -- it was from the '70s actually.

  • 10:50:03

    GUERNSEYAnd it was in Israel, and it was comparing American children who had color TV versus children in Israel who had just black and white TV. And the question was, you know, was: Is just the black and white TV just maybe not as an engaging for them? They're probably not learning as much. But the actual result was the opposite. In fact, the Israeli children were learning much more from the black and white TV.

  • 10:50:23

    GUERNSEYAnd what the researcher found was that the parents saw TV in Israel as an information device, as something that they needed to stay connected. Whereas the parents in the United States saw TV, even in color, right, as entertainment and veg out time. And it changed the way children related to what they were experiencing.

  • 10:50:42


  • 10:50:43

    GUERNSEYAnd I think that that's something we have to, you know, be thinking about.

  • 10:50:45

    REHMAll right. And to Toledo, Ohio. Good morning, Collin.

  • 10:50:50

    COLLINHi. Thanks. I just wanted to make a comment that I actually grew up as a -- I'm a Millennial, just to start. And I grew up with the Internet and high-speed Internet and Facebook, beyond that, and I even took a class, as a first and second grader, on how to create a Web page and use the Internet. And I can definitely say that technology and these new technologies have shaped me and made me a successful person now. I now have a job, which I know many people in my generation struggle for.

  • 10:51:20

    COLLINAnd I really credit a lot of this technology to have helped me along the way. So, you know, and I also grew up playing sports and playing outside. And, you know, I wasn't just stuck inside playing my Sega Genesis when I was kid, even though that was something that I did. And I do have great memories of doing that as well. But I just want to make a comment that, you know, Millennials especially, I think, are good example of how we've kind of developed with this technology.

  • 10:51:45

    REHMThat's very interesting. Heather Kirkorian, do you want to comment?

  • 10:51:50

    KIRKORIANYeah. I think that that experience is pretty representative for what young people today think about their own experiences with technology. And we've addressed this a little bit earlier, that the world is just changing, the world in which kids are growing up and the world in which young people will have to become productive members of society. So being able to learn how to navigate these technologies early on is becoming increasingly important.

  • 10:52:10

    KIRKORIANAnd also, the idea that these technologies are somehow replacing more traditional activities or outdoor play, that's a little bit misguided. The research actually suggests that at least the youngest kids today spend just as much time outdoors as they spend with screen media. So it's sort of a natural reaction for us to be -- to shy away from newer technologies and to assume they're somehow less valuable and that they're somehow displacing things that we did when we were kids.

  • 10:52:35

    KIRKORIANBut the research suggests that's not necessarily the case. They're certainly being incorporated into existing activities, and there are certainly kids who spend far too much time with screen media. There's no question about that. And they don't do as well academically and socially as their peers.

  • 10:52:49


  • 10:52:50

    KIRKORIANBut for a lot of kids, they still spend plenty of time outdoors and plenty of time (unintelligible).

  • 10:52:55

    REHMThat's good to hear. Heather Kirkorian is at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Boston, Mass. Good morning, Mary.

  • 10:53:11

    MARYHi, Diane.

  • 10:53:12


  • 10:53:13

    MARYI've been listening to your program, and I'm fascinated, although I was driving so I couldn't call in. But I also graduated in early childhood from University of Wisconsin way back when. But I wanted to quickly -- and I know you're running short of time -- tell you that there are some things that are really interesting that could really put some light on all of this.

  • 10:53:33

    MARYOne of the book called "Children of the Cyclops" and that has to do with television, but the author -- and I can't remember his name 'cause I'm driving, or was driving -- that it talks about how it is not the content so much that we need to be concerned about with media. It is actually the green flickering light of computers and television and what that -- that it's actually rewiring the brain. And as we know, we have all kinds of problems associated with learning and focusing and -- with children nowadays in the schools, they don't seem to have the focus that they used to.

  • 10:54:14

    MARYAnd so this might shed some light in terms of the research. Also, there's a field in psychology called neurofeedback, which originated out of biofeedback, which they're doing a lot of work actually with computers on developing new kinds of wiring of the brain of children that cannot focus -- they're out of control -- all kinds of things with where they're studying the states of consciousness that we can go into.

  • 10:54:48

    REHMInteresting. Lisa.

  • 10:54:50

    GUERNSEYI actually have not myself heard of that book, and so I'll certainly check it out. I want to say, though, that the rewiring the brain phrase comes up a lot. And it's important to understand that our brains are being rewired all the time in some ways. But certainly, when you're young children, no matter what you're interacting with, it's certainly changing your brain. New connections are being formed. Other ones are being formed.

  • 10:55:16

    REHMYou know, we were talking about this very issue yesterday with the chair of the Department of Biology at Columbia. And he commented that not enough attention has been paid to the chemistry of the brain. People continue to talk about wiring and synapses, but not enough attention on the chemicals that are operating within the brain. So perhaps, it is, in fact, a combination of all of these things that we're just not there yet. We are hoping to be there before too long, but we're not there yet.

  • 10:56:03

    REHMOne last comment from a -- an emailer in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. "Has there been any study on the difference in the preparation levels of children with and without the electronics when they begin school and as they progress? And that is exactly what's needed."

  • 10:56:29

    GUERNSEYWe absolutely -- we need so much more research. It's a, I mean, a barren field out there and a lot of these...

  • 10:56:35

    REHMAnd it will come. Lisa Guernsey, she is the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media -- from Baby Videos to Educational Software -- Affects Your Young Child." Ben Worthen is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. His article appeared in yesterday's edition. Liz Perle with Common Sense Media, Heather Kirkorian at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Thank you all for a fascinating show. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:15

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

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