01/09/2013 11:53 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2013

In the Digital Age, Moderation Is Key


Technology whiz kids are getting increasingly younger these days with the proliferation of tablet devices, games and gadgets. Kids seem to perfect the screen swipe move sometime around birth and by age 1, they are already recognizing their favorite app and opening it. The rest is history, in the form of a sticky phone smelling vaguely of milk.

The debate continues to rage on as to the true role technology is playing in young children's lives, with informed "experts" on both sides claiming the superior stand. Maybe it's the easy way out, but how about everything in moderation, especially for younger children?

Limit use of electronics - The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 years old and no more than two hours per day for children 2 and above. Television, iPad, iPhone; it all counts in the tally.

Strike a balance - Research has shown that infant media exposure has tripled in the last two decades. Parents can encourage kids to switch between screen time and traditional activities such as puzzles and coloring books, which help to develop fine motor and problem solving skills. Easier said than done? How about earning a half hour on the iPad after spending a half hour on puzzles and books?

Parental interaction is key - When children are watching TV or playing with a tablet device, we know their parents are less likely to talk to them. If this is standard operating procedure during early childhood years, children's language development can be negatively impacted; they learn fewer words by certain milestones. The single biggest predictor of vocabulary size at age 3 is number of words spoken to the child by primary caregivers up until then, not numbers of words spoken to the child by Dora.

Encourage group play - Interacting as part of a group is important for the development of social and interpersonal skills. Putting on headphones and playing in a game room doesn't count.

Encourage a mix of activities - Overstimulation from TV, iPads and computer games can lead to the brain becoming accustomed to a high level of stimulus, making traditional activities, like book reading, boring. Who wants to read a book, or listen to story, without the accustomed-to complete scene change every 11 seconds?

The holidays we've just left behind us are full of treats. We should consider screen time in early childhood in the same vein.