In a Psychology Today blog we read:
When very small children get hooked on tablets and smartphones, says Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, they can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brains. Too much screen time too soon, he says, “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”
Mkay, there's little doubt that if kids play some phone/tablet-based video game all day long, they'll miss on other activities (an obvious opportunity cost), but how much is too much? Are there studies quantifying this effect? And is there something specific about phone/tablet-based "screen time" that's particularly damaging? I mean besides the availability/portability factor, which is obvious.
A theory as to how an interactive time-waster is worse than a passive one has been proposed
many apps are designed to be stimulus-driven, with exciting audiovisual rewards for completing tasks. Experts call this the “I did it!” response, which triggers the reward pathway in the brain. Because of this, tablets and smartphones make for excellent pacifiers, particularly on long plane journeys and in restaurants. But while this can be helpful in the short term, it’s important for young children to be able to develop internal mechanisms of self-regulation, whether that’s learning without constant rewards or being able to sit patiently without constant digital stimulation.
But is there evidence that is actually more damaging to development than a more passive time-waster? Ok, maybe that makes it more potentially addictive... so there's potential to wasting more time like that. But if we controlled for time spent, is there any other difference?
And the end of the latter article seems to indicate that interactivity can cut both ways:
BedTime Math is one [opposite] example. The app delivers engaging maths story problems for parents and their children. It is one of the few tools that have been shown to make kids smarter; children who used the app even just once a week for a year improved their maths by more than a control group did. The impact was particularly strong for children whose parents were anxious about maths.