Is regular TV better than an iPad for kids?

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Here’s a question I got recently: Is there a difference between kids using an iPad versus watching TV?
I have this suspicion that watching on a TV is “better” somehow, even if the only thing my kid is doing on the iPad is watching streaming services.
But maybe I just get a creepy feeling about her doing TV-on-the-tablet because I grew up watching TV on a TV set, and so far as I can tell, I turned out fine?
Many of us grew up watching TV, so we have this intuitive sense that TV must somehow be “better” than a tablet.
An iPad is, at its most basic, just a smaller TV screen we can hold in our hands.
Designate a location in your house where the iPad “lives,” and where it returns at the end of screen time.
This can be easier on a TV, where the screen is bigger, though of course not impossible with an iPad.
Some do TV for shows and tablets for games, or TV for family movie night and tablets for one-off screen use.


Is watching TV on a TV “better” than using an iPad for kids? Even if my child is only using the iPad to watch streaming services, I wonder if there are any differences between kids using an iPad and kids watching TV. My child loves to watch Bluey on the tablet, getting nose-to-screen close to it. In fact, there are times when she hides the tablet under a blanket to have it to herself, a la Gollum and his prized possession. Seems better, doesn’t it, when she watches Bluey on TV? Maybe I just have a weird feeling about her watching TV on a tablet because I grew up watching TV on a TV set, and as far as I can tell, I turned out fine? Is there research on this? Thank you. She also starts doing art projects or plays with her stuffies.

Oh, for the good ol’ days, when we’d light up some oil lamps, toss some porridge on the wood-burning fireplace, light up the TV after a long day of churning butter and working the fields.

This is a great question, and one that is asked frequently, all right. I completely understand! Since a lot of us watched TV as children, we naturally assume that TV is “better” than tablets. However, is this accurate?

The answer begins with a hearty “it depends,” as is typical in most situations where research data is combined with subjective parenting choices. “.

For our children’s overall development and well-being, is there anything that makes an iPad worse than a TV in general? No. A smaller TV screen that we can hold in our hands is all that an iPad is at its most basic.

When choosing the device that’s best for your child, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here are a handful of them:.

Cutting it off.

With a TV, where you can physically put it away and press “off,” some families find that ending “screen time” is simpler. Using an iPad can make this more difficult. One solution is to assign the iPad a spot in your home where it “lives” and returns at the conclusion of screen time. You’ll need to be consistent for this to work. Additionally, it’s beneficial if the iPad “lives” out of little hands’ reach and out of sight (in a cabinet or closet).

Textual Content.

Features like auto-play, which plays videos one after the other, recommendations for “related” videos, and rewards, which show up as a glittering rainbow when a child completes a game level, are more common in content that is viewed or played on an iPad. These functions might even go beyond what is known as “manipulative design,” making it more difficult to turn off the iPad. The same show a child might watch on a TV can, of course, also be seen on a tablet, as demonstrated by the Bluey example above. This emphasizes how crucial it is to select content carefully across all platforms.

sharing a video.

Co-viewing, or actively using screens with your child, has been shown to have many advantages according to research. This is obviously not impossible with an iPad, but it may be simpler on a TV due to its larger screen. This may be a “pro” on the TV’s side if your viewing situation would permit some co-viewing if it were done on a TV screen (for example, if you are cooking or folding laundry while your child watches in the same room), but not so much if it were done on an iPad.

In a similar vein, you might find it simpler to watch what’s on the TV. If, as mentioned, your child’s Gollum-like inclinations lead to iPad viewing in a more private setting (e.g. G. , under a blanket), there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll watch something you’d rather they don’t.


Many characteristics of effective instructional media have been found through research. For children, interactive television and apps are more beneficial for learning (e.g. G. a child responds to a question and receives feedback on whether or not it was accurate), interesting, suitable for their age, and practical for their everyday lives. The increased potential for interactive apps and games is one advantage of using an iPad. Naturally, this necessitates screening those apps to see if they live up to their claims of being educational or not. For this, the app reviews from Common Sense Media can be useful.

the senses.

Children’s needs and preferences for sensory engagement vary greatly (i.e. E. their method of processing environmental input (such as touch, sound, and visuals). Many factors, many of which are related to the content a child is watching, influence how a child reacts to a screen. An iPad, on the other hand, is usually closer to their face and more “tactile” because they are holding it and possibly swiping. Although children will react to this in different ways, it’s important to observe your child’s behavior to determine the best approach for both of you.

Transportability and mobility.

I know this sounds simple, but an iPad is much more portable if you want to use it to pass the time during a painful medical procedure or a long flight, for example. However, if a restless child is watching at home, it might be better for them to watch TV instead, as they can watch while doing gymnastics, jumping, rolling, high-stepping, or other activities.

separation from the display.

Long-term close-up screen viewing may result in “digital eye strain,” according to some research. E. , eyes that are dry, fatigued, or sensitive); iPads are typically viewed up close compared to TVs. Watching on an iPad as opposed to a TV is probably not going to change much in this situation, though, if you’re adhering to other advice, such as taking regular breaks and generally limiting your screen time.

That said, there are a lot of sensible ways to go about this. A few households only watch TV. Some use tablets outside the house (while traveling, for example), and others watch TV at home. Some people watch TV for shows and play games on tablets, or they use TV for family movie nights and tablets for occasional screen time. Others only use tablets, where they have carefully chosen which shows and apps to use. To test it out, try establishing some reasonable boundaries and explaining them to your child. If it isn’t working, you can always try again. Like most things, the key is to experiment and determine what is most effective for your family.

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