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I know everyone has seen it- while sitting in a restaurant, you look around the room to see more than one table where everyone is on their phone. There is no family discussion about how the school day was or what projects they are working on. No laughter over a goofy Dad joke. Not even the usual sibling bickering. Instead, everyone has an eerie white/blue glow on their face as they peer intently into their Facebook page or Twitter feed. We live in a world where advances in technology have allowed us to have the world at our fingertips. Everything from the latest news headlines, to our mail, to TV shows and games, to the latest, cutest pictures of friends are now at the swipe of our finger. But how does this “plugged in” mentality translate to our children?

 “But in a world that is so saturated with screens and media, could there be a place for certain screen activities?”

According to a 2013 study from Common Sense Media, 38% of children less than 2 have used a smartphone or tablet, and usage among children 2 to 4 years of age has doubled to 80% over the past two years. The current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages parents from allowing screen time of any kind in children under 2 years of age. It is easy to understand the basis for this recommendation…during the years of substantial brain growth, you would not want to substitute human interactions for a TV (or smart device) babysitter. But in a world that is so saturated with screens and media, could there be a place for certain screen activities? And how could pediatricians help to better guide parents when it comes to recommendations for screen time?

 “Programs that allow parents and children to engage together are ideal in that you can take what is two-dimensional on a screen and translate it into the three-dimensional world.”

First and foremost, the studies on screen time, specifically smartphones and tablet devices, and childhood development is very limited. There are many studies out there in regards to TV exposure and possible repercussions in children (I will discuss these in a later post), but it is not hard to see how tablets could be different than TV. With carefully chosen content, there is the possibility for active learning and engagement. For example, an application that not only reviews a letter but also has the child “write” the letter as well as sounds out the phonics of the letter and gives examples of words that start with that letter with lots of fun rewards for reinforcing learning, is a multiple layer program that can be quite educational for a toddler. To take it one step further, parents should then review that letter and how to write the letter with the child. Programs that allow parents and children to engage together are ideal in that you can take what is two-dimensional on a screen and translate it into the three-dimensional world.

There should be limits on how much screen time is allowed for young children, and in my opinion, I think somewhere between 1-2 hours per day is reasonable. Again, this should include exposure to programs that are interactive, and parents should try and have discussions with their children in regards to what they viewed and help them to make connections between the “media world” and the “real world.” I think there are two places that screens should never be, especially for young children…the dinner table and the bedroom. It is hard enough to find 30 minutes each day where the family can all sit down together, so why would we want to mess that up with a smartphone or tablet? I always recommend for parents to keep their child’s bedroom a “technology free zone” which includes TV, tablets and smartphones. The bedroom is supposed to be a place of quiet and rest, so bright electronics only serve to disturb this environment.

As any parent out there will tell you, there are some days where if the tablet or smartphone doesn’t come out, dinner doesn’t get on the table. I am just as “guilty” of this as the next person. However, if we as parents can establish a balance of limited quantity of quality, educational and fun screen time with unlimited three-dimensional human and hands-on explorations and interactions, then we will be demonstrating for our children how to have a healthy relationship with the ever evolving world of technology, while sustaining and reinforcing the human, social, and real-world connections that are so very important for the young, developing mind.

For more information regarding the latest research into screen use in children under 3, click here.

If you are in search of a place to find the most educational and age appropriate applications and games, visit Common Sense Media or click here.