Toddlers and tablets

If you have a toddler and you have a tablet, there might appear to be some cosmic or magnetic force drawing them to each other. Baby might love it, but how well do toddlers and tablets really mix? How long should she be allowed to use it? What should she be using it for?

Don’t use technology as a comfort object

It’s tempting to use tablets and smartphones as something to comfort or distract Baby with when she just won’t stop fussing, but it will be way harder to wean her off a tablet than it will with her favorite pacifier or blankie. For one thing, technology is always going to be a part of Baby’s life, so it won’t be easy to take her off of it cold-turkey.

There’s also the possibility that if you give Baby a tablet to play with so she will be quiet in public, she may start behaving badly just to get the tablet in the future. Cause and effect are big new concepts for Baby, and if she starts to associate tantrums with getting to play with your tablet, especially if you’re trying to set up limits around tablet use at other times, she may start to develop some habits you wish she’d break. Unlike pacifiers, technology will only become more and more a part of Baby’s life as she gets older, and she will have plenty of time to play Angry Birds and Candy Crush then.

Use the tablet to your advantage

Your tablet can be great fun for your toddler, but you’ll want to test out each app you’re considering for Baby before you hand it over to her. Look for educational games, and set in-app restrictions so Baby can’t buy anything on your behalf. Remember that screen time keeps kids pretty still, and it’s important for children under 2 to explore the world around them using all of their senses. Search for games that encourage activity, and don’t let Baby forget about building blocks and Legos!

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation against screen time for children under the age of 2 is mostly centered around passive screen time, like watching movies or TV shows. This is because children under 2 can’t learn anything from recorded video on screens, and it’s such an important age for learning by interacting with people. This means that not much research has been done on babies using apps and playing games using screens. The evidence there is suggests that the best way for toddlers to have screen time is when it’s well-supervised and interactive – basically, it’s a good idea to treat tablet games like you and Baby are reading a different type of book together. Screen time to video chat with family and friends is another fun, interactive way for Baby to get familiar with technology.

Limit screen time

This doesn’t just apply to Baby. You should consider limiting your own screen time too. Not only does it set a good example for Baby, it also limits her opportunities to ask for the tablet. Out of sight, out of mind! Screen time guidelines have been evolving as technology has become a bigger part of our lives, and experts disagree on what’s best. Some, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, caution against screen time for children under 2, while others say 10 to 15 minutes a day is fine, and others say it’s more about content than time.

In any case, no matter how much quality tablet-time your little one is or isn’t getting, it’s important that she gets plenty of time for active play, and lots of chances to talk and interact with people directly.

Exercise your best judgement

Every child is different, and it’s up to you to set limits, engage, and to be a role model for Baby. Parenting is changing as technology is evolving, so it could take some practice to find out what works best for your family when it comes to tablet usage. Using a tablet might be just fun for one child, but for a child with special needs, it can be life-changing. Try out a couple different strategies, and see how each one could benefit you. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider for their opinion.

  • “Mobile and interactive media use by young children: the good, the bad, and the unknown.” EurekAlert. American Association for the Advancement of Science, January 30 2015. Web.
  • Laura Lewis Brown. “When to Introduce Your Child to a Smartphone or Tablet.” PBS. PBS, 2003-2016. Web.
  • Maggie Fox. “Toddlers Are Already Pros With Tablets and Smartphones, Study Finds.” NBC News. NBC News, November 3 2015. Web.
  • Jordan Shapiro. “The American Academy Of Pediatrics Just Changed Their Guidelines On Kids And Screen Time.” Forbes.  Forbes, September 30 3015. Web.

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