Computers Boost Preschool Kids' Intelligence
But Too Much Computer Time Could Hamper Development
June 7, 2004 -- Preschoolers who use computers are smarter.
They're also better prepared for school, research shows. Just be careful: Too
much computer time may have negative effects -- even on very young
"We believe that early access to computers does help kids
learn," lead researcher Xiaoming Li, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Wayne
State University in Detroit, tells WebMD.
"But we have to be cautious with this," Li says.
"We don't want parents to use the computer as a baby sitter." His study
appears in the June issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.
The finding is "very exciting," says Tiffany Field,
PhD, a psychologist and director of the Touch Therapy Institute at the
University of Miami School of Medicine.
"Particularly in low-income families, a computer really
puts children in touch with the world," she tells WebMD. "And it is
another form of stimulation -- just like classical music and massage. It
doesn't seem to matter whether it's auditory stimulation like music, or tactile
like massage, or visual like a computer -- all increase intelligence to the
But she voices concerns, too: "Just as with older kids,
young children will get fat, their social development will suffer [if they are
inactive], and they could have more trouble sleeping [if they get too much]
stimulation. Sleep deprivation has terrible effects on little kids," she
Help or Hindrance?
Experts have disputed the effect of computers on a young
child's development. Studies have found that computers can teach letters and
numbers, which helps give children's self-esteem a boost. However, studies have
also shown limitations -- that computers don't prepare kids for reading or
participating in discussions.
Li set out to examine this issue. He says what he found
surprised him. Home computers were present among many families with very tight
budgets. Preschoolers in those homes were using the computers. They were also
using computers at parents' worksites, the library, and the babysitter's
"We found more kids had computer access than we
anticipated," Li tells WebMD. "We thought these rural low-income
families would have little access, but that wasn't true."
The 122 4-year-olds in Li's study were enrolled in a rural Head
Start program in an economically depressed region of West Virginia. "We
wanted to pick a population with a limited access to computers. In the urban
middle class, all families have them," he tells WebMD.
Parents completed a questionnaire: Did their home have a
computer? Did the children use it? How often? Was there a video game system
like the Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, or Sony Playstation 2? Also, did
the children have access to a computer outside the home?
He found that about half of the families -- 53% -- had a
computer at home, and most had some sort of game system, too.