It might be tempting to hand over an iPad to a screaming child when all else has failed to calm them down.
But child psychologists say it may be stunting youngsters’ emotional development, because they do not learn how to control their emotions.
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine in the US found that children need to find ways of self-regulating their feelings rather than masking them with distracting programmes or games.
Dr Jenny Radesky, clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioural Pediatrics at Boston University, said: “Mobile devices are everywhere and children are using them more frequently at young ages. The impact these mobile devices are having on the development and behaviour of children is still relatively unknown.
“It has been well-studied that increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills. Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction.
“If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?”
Researchers reviewed the latest interactive media in a commentary for the journal Paediatrics.
Some early studies found that interactive media, such as electronic books and learn-to-read applications can be useful in teaching vocabulary and reading comprehension, but only in children preschool-age or older.
However overall, the researchers discovered that while mobile devices use by children can provide an educational benefit, if they are used to distract youngsters during mundane tasks may be detrimental to the social and emotional development of the child.
Dr Radesky added: “Heavy device use during young childhood could interfere with development of empathy, social and problem solving skills that are typically obtained by exploring, unstructured play and interacting with friends.
“These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of maths and science.”
The study also showed that tablets, eBooks and apps are wasted on children under two-and-a-half and are most effective when used with parents. Infants and toddlers will still learn best through hands-on, face to face experiences with adults, the authors concluded.
“At this time, there are more questions than answers when it comes to mobile media,” said Dr Radesky
“Until more is known about its impact on child development quality family time is encouraged, either through unplugged family time, or a designated family hour.”
Previous studies have suggested that parents who let their toddlers play with iPads could be damaging their hands and fingers.
Occupational therapist Lindsay Marzoli said that excessive screen time could cause children long term damage.
This is because when they are using touchscreens, they are not building up the muscles needed for writing.
Last year the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads.
They called on parents to crackdown on tablet computer use and even turn off wi-fi at night to address the problem.