There are a few questions about the iPad, but I am interested in knowing if such a habit has bad impacts on my son. He watches YouTube for hours and hours. I can't deny that he has learned some good things like counting, but it's like he lives in his own world.
There is sufficient reason, imo, to be concerned. Research findings to date might suggest a correlation between television viewing and developmental problems, but they cannot show causality.
Enough, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement suggesting that children 2 and older be restricted to no more than 1 to 2 hours of "high quality" television a day.
Borrowing from a previous answer I posted, here is some relevant research:
The concerns are stronger in the area of language development. This TED talk describes how minimal the impact of television on a toddler's language development is (2% as effective as a real person). In addition, a television being on generally reduces the amount of language interactions the baby has with the parents, as, at best, both the baby and the parents will be distracted by the television, and at worst the parents will use the television as an opportunity to engage in activities that do not involve the baby.
From an AAP media release:
- Children younger than 5 years who watch television spend less time in creative play and less time interacting with parents or siblings
- For every hour of television that a child younger than 2 years watches alone, he or she spends an additional 52 minutes less time per day interacting with a parent or sibling.
- For every hour of television, there is 9% less time on weekdays and 11% less time on weekends spent in creative play for a child younger than 2 years.
- However, children who live in households with heavy media use spend between 25% (for 3- to 4-year-olds) and 38% (for 5- to 6-year-olds) less time being read to or reading.3,4 These children have a lower likelihood of being able to read compared with their peers from households with low media use.4
- Although parents perceive a televised program to be a calming sleep aid, some programs actually increase bedtime resistance, delay the onset of sleep, cause anxiety about falling asleep, and shorten sleep duration.41 Specifically, in children younger than 3 years, television viewing is associated with irregular sleep schedules.42
Beofett's answer is excellent, but I would like to add a few personal observations which were too long for a comment.
Youtube, specifically, can be very hard to control. Our toddler (3.5 years) does get to watch stuff there, but you have to be vigilant. Examples: Looking at toys helicopters, easily browsed to real helicopters, then to some wartime reporting (which I felt he is too young to deal with). In another example, someone had used a children's show as a parody, and turned it into something very scary. There is a lot of strange stuff on youtube, and whenever we don't have time to monitor what he sees, he get to see more controlled children's show in apps (amazon Prime, iTunes, apps based on IPs, PBS kids are all options)
there are many things to do on an ipad that is more engaging than TV ( and I personally feel the recommendations for screen time is off, as passive vs active watching is very different to me). For the iPad, look for games by the company Duck Duck Moose, for instance. Our kid loves those.
from personal observance, watching before bedtime is a bad idea (as the studies linked in Beofett's resource also point out)
lastly, we do use the iPad for him to watch stuff even if it is not recommended, but we take 'breaks', weeks without using it. I think this is important, at least depending on the kids personality. We noticed that sometimes when he used it many days in a row, it was a) his go to 'toy' and b) he whined and cried a lot when we told him to stop. Whenever he uses it occasionally instead, he is much less interested in it.
On the other hand ... I was making my living as a freelance graphic designer when my children were small (way pre-iPad), and was constantly reading warnings against letting children spend too much time on the computer. I read to them a great deal, and did other activities with them as a "stay-at-home mom." But since I was actually making my living at home, a large amount of most days my attention was focused on meeting work deadlines. So I pretty much let my kids' passions choose how they spent their time, and much of it was on computers and game consoles. All three kids turned out to be adept digital artists and very tech literate. My son, now 31, creates computer games. My 30-year-old daughter is a very capable mother of three and a freelance illustrator. My third, now 24, stunned me by starting to read at age 3, having worked out the words "start" and "enter." She was reading on her own at age 4, and writing her own stories at age 5. She is now co-creating full-length graphic novel. It's my belief that children are resilient, and those with parents who teach and encourage them learn. I think the correlations with TV use (or computer, or YouTube, or digital games) most likely reflect more strongly the education levels of their parents and the absence of alternative environments for playing and exploring in their homes and neighborhoods, rather than dangers lurking in over-use of electronic gadgets.
Most of the answers here appear to be about screen time, but it's also important to remember that YouTube is not designed to be a safe space for a child.
For example, my son likes to watch Minecraft videos. Very often these have a very unsuitable adult voiceover, plus optional heavy metal soundtrack. Do you want some random teenager swearing and talking about sex in front of your kid?
My little girl enjoys nursery rhymes and the songs from Frozen. The recommended videos will often be adult parody videos, or will feature surprising scary content, especially around halloween.
It's very easy when following a stream of clickthroughs to get into some very dodgy content indeed, even with safe mode enabled. There's seriously some dark stuff on YouTube, I wouldn't leave a child on it un-attended.
Play with your kid, read good book for him, talk with him, teach him!
The first thing we did while planning kids - we've thrown TV away. At all. We don't have a similar device at home. My daughter (5 yrs now) watches cartoons and programs that I choose for 15-30 minutes per day WITH ME on the screen using my laptop and projector. We speak about what we are watching, commenting, laughing together etc. If you are so bored of you kid that you are leaving him with youtube for hours, just give the kid to another family!
Sorry for my English - it is not my mother language ))
Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.
"Entertainment screen time" is computers, tablets, phones, TV, etc.
If anything it is bad for the eyes. They are not meant for focusing on flat objects, 1-2 feet away, for extended periods.
Our kids (5 and below) watch TV from at least 10-12 feet away. Those (kids/adults) who work on computers a lot should use reading glasses (+1 to +2 diopters) so as to reduce strain otherwise there is a good chance of Myopia.
Generally speaking it is a good idea to keep small kids away from computers/iPads as long as you can. More of it means less time for playing outside/exercising/developing social skills, less exposure to much needed sunlight etc. More time at home will also increase the chance for obesity, knock-knees etc.
If your kids must watch TV then get a 40" plus TV and keep it 15-20 feet away. Also don't use high contrast. The lesser the better. Also make sure to have a soft light source somewhere on the opposite side.
From personal experience, it can be OK, but you need to be careful.
When my daughter was two, for various reasons, she was effectively in a single parent home with myself as the caregiver while I was working outside the home as well. When I was home I was often trying to earn more money as a freelance writer. So my daughter got the tablet to play with. When I was home, I'd have her playing with the tablet, usually watching Youtube, close to me. This allowed me to somewhat monitor her videos and keep the less appropriate ones away from her. Also if she started to act up, or refused to put the tablet away when I told her to, it was removed for anywhere from an hour to an entire day. The most important part was that when I wasn't working, I focused on her. I read her stories, made her my helper in the kitchen, took her for walks, went out and played with her, and let her know she was the most important part of my world.
At seven years old, she still goes on Youtube quite a bit, but she is well adjusted and has no problem socializing at school. So pay attention to your child and if you notice he has any problems get him away from Youtube for a while. Also be ready to explain some things ahead of your expected schedule, because he will watch some things that will leave him confused and asking you for advice (I got to explain US elections yesterday thanks to one video, and I'm Canadian).
I have a two year old son who we allow to watch videos on YouTube for a limited duration. I flipped round the experience by getting him to help me create nursery rhymes by singing along and watching me animate the characters! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3vxDytRos9k
I strongly agree that YouTube viewing must be supervised, as Ida and Supernumary said you can soon find unsuitable content by clicking on fairly innocent looking thumbnails. Also, I believe interacting while viewing is important. Get your kids to sing along, or ask them what their favourite vehicles / toys / animals are on the video they are watching.