Sorry, Touch Screens Won't Turn Baby Into Einstein

toddler playing on smartphone
Children are increasingly playing games on mobile devices. (Image credit: Antonio Guillem |

Playing games on tech devices won't make kids younger than age 3 any smarter, a new study says.

But the research did find that toddlers who played non-educational games on smartphones, e-readers and tablets received lower scores in verbal tests, compared with toddlers who used the touch screen devices for other purposes, such as watching educational shows or pressing buttons on the screen.

"We have observed in our neonatal clinic that the number one 'toy' parents are giving their toddlers are smartphones," study author Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a physician at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, said in a statement. "It was striking to see that parents were substituting books and general baby toys for smart phones," Milanaik said. [11 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby's Brain]

In 2011, the American Academy and Pediatrics (AAP) discouraged the use of electronic devices for kids younger than age 2, saying the devices may negatively effect kids' development, and that there was no evidence of educational benefits. The new 2013 AAP guidelines mentioned the devices may have positive and pro-social effects on kids, but the advice did not apply to children younger than 3.

In the new study, 63 out of the 65 families surveyed owned a touch screen device. The average toddler in the study started using a device at age 11 months, and used it for about 36 minutes a day.

Kids used touch screen devices to watch "educational shows" (30 percent), play with educational apps (26 percent), press buttons on the screen aimlessly (28 percent) and play non-educational games (14 percent).

About 60 percent of the parents in the study said that they believed their kids did gain educational benefits by using a touch screen device. However, the researchers did not find that the kids' cognitive development benefitted from the use of the devices in any way.

"Technology can never replace a parent's interaction with his or her child," Dr. Milanaik said. "Just talking to your child is the best way to encourage learning."

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Staff Writer