By Kathy Lane
Technology in the hands of a toddler can be like handing the world’s nuclear codes over to North Korea. You don’t know what they’re going to do with it or if you’ll ever get it back. In fact, according to psychiatry professor Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, technology can be intensely addictive to even very small children. However, allowing youngsters who can barely speak to use the latest technology can also have benefits, such as improved hand-to-eye coordination and advanced learning. Every child must eventually be introduced to technology in order to get by in today’s world. The question is, how soon is too soon?
Early Technology Use May Cause Setbacks
A toddler may look at a tablet or smartphone as something magical, finding it hard to look away. This can have a negative impact on developing brains, such as causing a lack of ability to concentrate. Things move around swiftly on a tablet. According to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that advocates for kids, the number of children aged two and under who have used a tablet in the past year has increased by 28 percent from the last time this number was checked in 2011.
According to early childhood researchers Lilla Dale McManis and Susan B. Gunnewig, children who use technology such as tablets, smartphones, and computers before the age of two may miss out on important social development skills. For example, a toddler who is constantly in front of a tablet instead of interacting with other people is not going to learn how to read facial expressions, pick up on subtle body language cues or learn to recognize emotions.
Interactive is Best
Not every psychologist agrees with these concerns, however. Most tablets, smartphones, and even computers have interactive components, and these are the very things that can help young children learn the social skills they will need when they enter school and start to be around other children and adults. With very young children, playing interactive games with their parents is the best way to introduce them to technology. Getting youngsters involved in touching the tablet, responding to cues from the games, and playing and learning together can actually be helpful in starting a child off on the right foot of social development.
In fact, some parents are more concerned with the amount of time their young children spend watching TV than they are with technology. Television is not interactive, and children who watch a lot of it are passive observers. Playing interactively with parents when they’re very young, and then alone when they’re a bit older, allows for more engagement and can stimulate learning and interest in what they are learning.
Basics from the Experts
There are obviously two schools of thought on toddlers and technology. However, combining the two sides reveals a sensible route to take with your own children. Limit or avoid technology altogether with children who are under the age of two. Instead, get them focused more on face-to-face human interactions so that socializing with people will seem normal to them. After age two, play interactive games with them on mobile devices. Android phones from T-Mobile are just some of many mobile devices that offer interactive games for tiny tots. Usage should be monitored and limited, and always take place with a parent present until the child is at least four. After that, limited and monitored play can take place safely on the child’s own. This can help prepare the toddler to enter the school environment and to become socially proficient.
Kathy is a retired English teacher and Jill-of-All-Trades who just sent her second kid off to college.