Have you ever witnessed that wide-eyed, slack-jawed look that comes over children’s faces when they’re given a tablet computer to play with? Child psychologists have long warned that relying too much on “screen time” to appease kids could stunt their emotional development.
But what about kids who need to be calmed down for the sake of their health, like children who are about to go into surgery? Doctors often dose children with sedatives before they receive anesthesia. But new research shows that screen time may actually be a better option.
A new study by Dr. Dominique Chassard and colleagues at the Hôpital Mère-Enfant, part of the Hospices Civils de Lyon in France, concludes that iPads are just as effective at distracting kids from an upcoming surgery as conventional sedatives. Researchers looked at pediatric surgical patients between the ages of 4 and 10. Twenty minutes before they were given anesthesia, one group of kids was given a sedative called midazolam while the other group was given an iPad with age-appropriate games.
Two independent psychologists measured the patients’ anxiety at various stages before and after the surgery using a standard behavioral checklist. In the end, the levels of anxiety among both kids and their parents were similar in both groups, meaning electronic games were just as effective as the drugs. Parents and nurses were also more satisfied with the anesthesia procedure when the kids were given an iPad beforehand.
“Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anesthesia are equally blunted by midazolam or use of the iPad,” Dr. Chassard said. “However, the quality of induction of anesthesia, as well as parental satisfaction, were judged better in the iPad group.”
For parents who use screen time as leverage to get their grumpy kids to do just about anything, these results may come as no surprise.