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Keep toddlers and tech apart

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m thinking of giving my 18-month-old my old iPad. She loves playing with it and I think she should have her own. My husband disagrees. What do you think?

A: There’s a lot of information out there on technology’s effect on children, but very little on toddlers as young as yours. What there is, however, paints a pretty grim picture. Here are the arguments in favor and against.

Pro No. 1: Our kids see us interacting with screens in every aspect of our lives. Kids without superior tech skills will be at a disadvantage later.

Con No. 1: Children are being pushed to grow up too quickly; they need time to be a kid. Research is clear: young children learn everything better by interacting with their parents than from a machine. They also need to physically interact with their world, something they can’t do with 2D images.

Pro No. 2: It’s only for a few minutes at a time. What harm could there be in that?

Con No. 2: Researcher Karin Archer found that 62 percent of children under a year old and 89 percent of children under 2½ had been introduced to at least one mobile device. Pediatrician Catherine Birken and her colleagues found that 20 percent of children under 18 months were using handheld devices an average of 28 minutes per day. They also found that the more time a child spent on a device, the higher the risk of them having trouble using words and language.

Pro No. 3: Although computers and tablets aren’t nearly as social as reading, phone- and tablet-based apps are far more interactive than television. Children as young as a year can use computers to learn shapes, colors, numbers and opposites, and many apps offer opportunities for creativity, without the mess of finger paints. 2D images are also safer because they can’t be put in the mouth or swallowed.

Con No. 3: First, kids under about 2½ aren’t old enough to understand the symbolic nature of what’s on the screen; in other words, that the 2D image of a dog is not a real dog.

Pro No. 4: Apps are colorful and engaging, and kids love ’em. And it keeps them from getting bored.

Con No. 4: No child this age should be bored. The world and everything in it is new and exciting. App use in moderation shouldn’t be a problem. However, too many parents don’t supervise their children’s mobile device usage or impose adequate time restrictions.

I’ve also heard from several pediatricians that some of their young patients who spend a lot of time on devices have poorer fine motor skills and muscle tone than their less digitally savvy patients. And doctors in England’s National Health Service are reporting that many children are starting preschool without the hand strength and dexterity to hold a pencil. They blame overuse of touchscreen devices.

I think the evidence here is pretty clear: toddlers and tech don’t belong together, at least not for a while.

Armin Brott’s blog at www.DadSoup.com; follow him on Twitter @mrdad

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