Tots & Technology: How Young Is Too Young?

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Leanne Perry spends almost every afternoon with her grandson Max, helping him learn how to use an iPad. At just two years old, he’s surprisingly skilled at navigating the device and he’s not alone. Young kids today are exposed to all kinds of gadgets – computers, smartphones and tablets – sometimes for hours a day. There are even tablets targeted to toddlers.

So much exposure begs an important question: How young is too young for tots and technology?

Therapist David Stephens of Huntsville’s Trinity Counseling Center often sees children with technology troubles. Some have sleep issues or behavior problems but there’s evidence they may face much worse.

“There have been some studies about the effects of cell phones on developing brains,” Stephens explained, “and that was shown to have some sort of negative impact.”

An American Academy of Pediatrics study found “primary negative health effects on violence and aggressive behavior; sexuality; academic performance… nutrition, dieting, and obesity.” Additional research, reported at a recent convention of the American Psychological Association, suggests overuse of media and technology can make kids more prone to anxiety, depression and psychological disorders.

Despite these examples, experts say research on kids and gadgets is still pretty thin. After all, Facebook and iPads haven’t really been around for that long.

Max’s grandmother Leanne is well aware of the research gap, since she also happens to be an IT technician for Huntsville City Schools.

“This is the new generation we’re gonna figure this out with I think What is too much? We don’t know,” Perry said.

What we do know is that the modern world increasingly relies on technology. Kids who master different kinds early could have a big advantage later in life. The trick, Perry says, is to expose kids the right way.

“Technology is not just a standard thing. It needs to be tailored for the individual children.”

A WHNT News 19 Tech Talk: Special Report revealed that many schools in the Tennessee Valley are now doing just that – incorporating age-appropriate apps and social media in lessons. Stephens adds that many of these tools can aid children who are natural “visual learners.”

Given these pros and cons, how should parents manage a young child’s screen time? Experts recommend setting a limit for use each day, taking into account exposure outside the home. Enforce bedtimes and delay giving children devices of their own until they are older. Promoting “educational” experiences with technology may also help keep the experience meaningful.

Perry makes sure to guide Max’s little fingers along during their iPad sessions – makes sure he is learning and at the same time, having a blast with grandma.

For more technology reports like this, check out Michelle Stark on Facebook and Twitter.

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