Scientists Find 2-Year-Olds Can Use Tablet Tech in Meaningful Ways

Your 2-year-old cousin will unlock your phone and play with your apps. 

Holiday shopping for your new niece or nephew just got a little bit easier.

Instead of waiting until they’re already in elementary school before getting them as hooked as you are on digital gaming and app-based nonsense, a new study suggests that even two-year-olds are capable of significantly engaging with digital devices, including swiping, unlocking, and recognizing specific icons, like their favorite applications.

Parents reported that after spending an average of 15 minutes per day with smart phones or tablets, their toddlers were already demonstrating a degree of fluency with digital devices that is almost frightening considering it’s also the age of semi-sentences and potty-training.

The average age that parents reported their kids to be swiping, unlocking the screen and “actively searching for touch screen features” was 24 months — the low end of the terrible twos. Now, these abilities might come as a great relief to parents exhausted from the difficult age, but have you ever tried to remove a phone or tablet from a toddler enjoying him or herself? It’s terrifying, like tearing “my precious” away from a creature that looks and sounds exactly like Gollum.

The researchers, though, seem a bit more optimistic about the potential for such young ones to be interacting with digital devices, even as major associations of pediatricians, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, have typically expressed skepticism regarding the role of technology in development. The team wrote:

“Interactive touch screen applications offer a level of engagement not previously experienced with other forms of media and are more akin to traditional play. This opens up the potential application of these devices for both assessment of development and early intervention in high-risk children.”

But they also add a caveat.

“Many applications designed for infants and toddlers already exist, but there is no regulation of their quality, educational value, or safety. Some of the issues that arise with passive watching of television still apply.”

So, go on, get the two-year-old in your life an educational app for the holidays — just don’t come crying to me when they disappear into their room for the next 10 to 15 years.