The tot in question first got her hands on the tablet when she was 3, The Sunday Mirror reported. Within a year, she was attached to it, using it up to four hours per day and becoming apoplectic when her parents tried to take it away.
But Dr. Richard Graham, the doctor who assisted the girl, fears media reports may have overblown both the severity and scope of the situation.
"This is not a nation overrun with 4-year-olds addicted to iPads," said Graham, an adolescent psychiatrist who launched the U.K.'s first technology addiction service geared toward young people at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London.
In kids that young, one might see troubling "trends" but not necessarily a "4-year-old 'addict,'" he told HuffPost. "I think that was misunderstood."
However, Graham does believe the girl's mother made the appropriate move for her family when she asked for help. The London-based technology addiction program he heads aims to address what he and colleagues see as a very real surge in children and teenagers becoming dependent on gaming and other forms of technology. The treatment is tailored: Patients whose "addiction" is accompanied by symptoms of depression or violent behavior may require inpatient care, while others need something less rigorous.
The 4-year-old girl, Graham said, received outpatient care, which focused on empowering her parents and putting her on a digital diet of sorts.
"It was a very minimal intervention," he explained. "Her use wasn't going to be out of control, massively, in the immediate future, but it was a way to find a better balance."
But when technology is omnipresent, parents may struggle with what balance really means.
Dr. Rani Gereige, a pediatrician and director of medical education at Miami Children's Hospital, told The Huffington Post, "It is about setting limits." Parents should be role models, turning off the television or cell phones during family times, like meals, and not texting while they are all together, he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any media use by kids under 2 -- an age group increasingly targeted by companies selling "educational" products. In its most recent policy statement on young children and technology, the group also warned that if parents choose to engage their young children with electronic media of any kind, they should have clear, concrete strategies to manage it.
But that statement, released in 2011, focused heavily on "traditional" media, like television, rather than tablets and iPhones. Researchers and doctors say it is unclear how much the type of device matters.
"The AAP is definitely looking at the interactive media question," said Dr. Ari Brown, a member of the academy's council on communications and media and the lead author of the 2011 guidelines. "We will again take a thoughtful and careful examination of the evidence and provide a statement about what we know, what we don't know, where the gaps in knowledge lie, and how to provide some guidance to parents on how to manage media in their homes based on the evidence we have."
Other groups are also looking at issues surrounding technology use and addiction. A working group for the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 -- considered the bible of psychiatry -- considered including Internet addiction as a formal diagnosis, but concluded it is not yet understood. When the new edition comes out in May, it will likely be listed in an appendix in the hope of encouraging more research in the area, the American Psychiatric Association has said.
In the meantime, Graham said parents need to think seriously about the impact that technology can have on their children, so they don't find themselves at their breaking point, like the parents of his 4-year-old patient did.
"We really need to be thinking about early intervention, perhaps in antenatal classes, in the same way that [soon-to-be] parents are advised on diet and sleep," Graham said. "From the beginning, parents need to be aware that when your child sees you on your device, they will want that, too."
Related on HuffPost:
March 2013: Teens and Technology
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Fully 95% of teens are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006. Yet, the nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically during that time ... Teens are just as likely to have a cell phone as they are to have a desktop or laptop computer. And increasingly these phones are affording teens always-on, mobile access to the internet — in some cases, serving as their primary point of access."
February 2013: Preschoolers Can Learn Great Things From TV
<strong>Source</strong>: Huffington Post (to read the actual study, visit <a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/02/13/peds.2012-3872.full.pdf">Pediatrics</a> -- subscription required) <strong>Gist</strong>: "New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that putting our time and energy into working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior -- even for children as young as 3 years of age."
February 2013: Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "While longitudinal research does allow us to speak in terms of a 'causal' relationship, it is probably more accurate and useful to think about media violence as a 'risk factor' rather than a 'cause' of violence — one variable among many that increases the risk of violent behavior among some children."
January 2013: Screen Time Not Linked To Kids' Physical Activity
<strong>Source</strong>: Reuters (to read the actual study, visit <a href="http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1548755">JAMA Pediatrics</a> -- log-in required) <strong>Gist</strong>: "[R]esearchers said the new study backs up earlier findings showing too much screen time and not enough exercise may be separate issues that parents and schools need to address independently."
December 2012: How Families Interact on Facebook
<strong>Source</strong>: Facebook <strong>Gist</strong>: "We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends."
November 2012: Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Most parents of teenagers are concerned about what their teenage children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others. Some parents are taking steps to observe, discuss, and check up on their children’s digital footprints."
<strong>Source</strong>: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health <strong>Gist</strong>: "In this Poll, nearly two out of three adults expressed strong support for proposed COPPA updates, including requiring apps designed for kids to confirm that users are at least 13 and prohibiting apps from collecting personal information from users under age 13."
November 2012: The Online Generation Gap
<strong>Source</strong>: Family Online Safety Institute <strong>Gist</strong>: "These surveys indicate that teens’ concerns about their online safety parallel parents’ concerns more closely than parents realize and that many teens are taking steps to protect their privacy and personal information. Nonetheless, teens suggest that parents are not as informed about what their teens do online as parents think they are, and some teens are taking risks by providing personal information to strangers online."
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "America’s teachers -- whether they are long-time classroom veterans or young, tech-savvy ones, at wealthy schools or low-income schools, public or private, elementary or high school -- surface relatively consistent concerns: Students are having issues with their attention span, writing, and face-to-face communication, and, in the experience of teachers, children’s media use is contributing to the problem. On the plus side, teachers find that young people’s facility with media is helping them find information quickly and multitask more effectively."
November 2012: How Teens Do Research in the Digital World
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: "Three-quarters of AP [Advanced Placement] and NWP [National Writing Project] teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a 'mostly positive' impact on their students’ research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an 'easily distracted generation with short attention spans' and 64% say today’s digital technologies 'do more to distract students than to help them academically.'"
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "Three out of four teens have social networking sites, and half of all teens are on their sites on a daily basis. But despite our concerns about social media, in the vast majority of cases, these media do not appear to be causing great tumult in teenagers’ lives."
March 2012: Teens, Smartphones and Texting: Texting Volume Is Up While Frequency of Voice Calling Is Down
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. The frequency of teens' phone chatter with friends - on cell phones and landlines - has fallen. But the heaviest texters are also the heaviest talkers with their friends.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: "There was no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at anytime, than children receiving the inactive video games."
November 2011: Teens, Kindness And Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American Teens Navigate the New World of “Digital Citizenship”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15% report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “We found that children in as many as 70% of home-based child care settings and 36% of center-based child care settings watch television daily. More importantly, when television is viewed at all, infants and children spend 2 to 3 hours watching in home-based programs and ~1.5 hours watching in center-based programs.”
October 2011: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reafﬁrms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group. This statement also discourages the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.”
October 2011: Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America
<strong>Source</strong>: Common Sense Media <strong>Gist</strong>: "Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward. Having an accurate understanding of the role of media in children’s lives is essential for all of those concerned about promoting healthy child development: parents, educators, pediatricians, public health advocates, and policymakers, to name just a few."
July 2011: Cell Phone Study ‘Misleading’: Children May Still Be At Increased Cancer Risk, Experts Say
<strong>Source</strong>: The Huffington Post <strong>Gist</strong>: “[E]xperts have some serious concerns regarding the methods and conclusions of the first study evaluating the connection between cell phone radiation and brain cancer in children and teens. Not only was the study flawed, they note, but it was also financially supported by the cell phone industry.”
October 2010: Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: “This study found that greater television and computer use was related to greater psychological difﬁculties, independent of gender, age, level of deprivation, pubertal status, and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time.”
<strong>Source</strong>: Pediatrics <strong>Gist</strong>: "Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood."
<strong>Source</strong>: Pew Research Center <strong>Gist</strong>: “Fully two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.”
January 2010: Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds
<strong>Source</strong>: Kaiser Family Foundation <strong>Gist</strong>: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”