Tablets are great! There is an app for almost everything and you can get to it in lightning speed. With the prevalence of tablets and smart phones, and with their prices dropping for the holidays, it's a good time to think about technology for children and if your toddler should be using one.
Children and Technology
If you have read my book Time You Can’t Get Back: What Every Parent Needs to be Doing During Baby’s First Year or my blogs, you know that I think babies under age 12 months should have little or no exposure to electronic media. That includes tablets and smart phones as well as tv. There is too much other rich stimulation for their growing brains and nervous systems without them getting it from electronics. As babies become toddlers, their brains are more developed and there are some interesting options for parents in terms of electronic media. And equally interesting questions to ask about toddler usage.
You can do a lot of things with smart phones and tablets and there are a ton of apps available for preschoolers. The question is, should your toddler be exposed to these things? The answer isn't simple. There are many things to consider including: content; amount of time on the device; alone vs assisted and ergonomic issues. There is also the issue of addiction. That sounds funny, but it's not funny when you see a kid who is truly addicted to their electronic game. Over the next several posts, we'll take a look at each of these points and help you think through the best decision for your toddler.
The right content for children and technology
The "Sponge Bob Research" tells us that fast paced television programming has negative effects for small children. Although there is no research available that I am aware of on tablet usage, it seems reasonable that the same concepts would apply. As with television viewing, content is key. Giving toddlers access to fast paced electronic games with little learning content is about the same thing as giving them a candy bar. Will it kill them? No. Is it the best thing for them. No. With the huge selection of apps available, pick ones that help your little one learn colors, numbers, letters, seasons, etc. There are some fun art apps that allow toddlers to be creative and give parents the opportunity to help them learn colors - if the parent is there and helping. For example, there is an "art" app which gives toddlers the opportunity to tap a paintbrush and then a color and then "paint" a picture. They can change colors as well as line thickness. They can also choose to erase if they want to. It takes some dexterity to do all of this which little toddlers don't quite have. But they can still have fun with the app and be creative. If a parent is there to "play", they can ask their little one which color they want next and help them tap it. If kids don't know their colors, this is a great opportunity to help them learn. Another great way to use this app is to help you toddler learn shapes. Ask him to draw a circle. Then you draw one. Practice together. It's great fun for adults to play a little too.
Amount of time for children and technology
It seems like infants, toddlers and kids of all ages quickly get addicted to anything electronic. (This doesn't end at age 18 - electronic gaming is one of the biggest sources of recreation for adults today). As the mom of a 2 year old, I understand the relief of having a few minutes time to get something done or just to relax while the little one is playing with an app or watching a show. And there is nothing wrong with that. The challenge is finding the balance for when it is enough and when to hit the off switch and go outside. Or color with real crayons. Or read a book with real pages. Or build with blocks. Or play with dollies. . . . Again, I am not aware of any research that gives recommendations on how much app usage is acceptable for toddlers and how much is too much. For now, each family needs to decide how much time is enough. For us, we try to keep it under 30 minutes at a time. You can start to see toddler's eyes glaze over when they have been sitting in front of the tv or a tablet for very long and 30 minutes seems to be a good threshold. And good luck getting it away from them. My little girl has only played with apps for a few days and already gets upset when we shut it off. I really don't like the way it impacts her and am still deciding if we are going to keep the tablet for her use or take it away altogether. We'll talk about sizing up the pros and cons in part 3 of this segment.
Next week: Toddlers and Tablets: Part 2
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