Advice Column, Child, Education, Tween & Teen

Should toddlers be exposed to technology?

By Anne-Marie Reed

Watching your two-year-old princess swiping effortlessly through the apps on your iPad does not necessarily imply that she’s ready to be exposed to technology. That said, it is natural for toddlers in their explorative phase to prefer playing with tech toys over traditional toys and games.

Traditional toys and games all have one feature in common – the child needs to engage with them in order to give them any entertainment value. Engagement implies that the child has to make them work, they don’t just provide entertainment by pressing a button. In addition, traditional games require a fair amount of creativity and personalisation, whereas most digital games are pre-set; creativity lies in the hands of the programmers. A comparison between a lifeless box of wooden puzzle pieces and Candy Crush on your phone should explain this point sufficiently. 

The “good” stuff always requires more effort. We know this from all sectors of our lives: health, fitness, relationships, etc. But does this mean that we should keep those tiny, inquisitive hands off our digital devices? 

Research reveals that parents mainly use technology, including television, as a babysitter when the going gets tough. As a parent myself, with vivid memories of those incredibly rewarding (and exhausting) times with two toddlers, I understand this completely. The question, however, remains: is it damaging for children between the ages of one and six years old to be exposed to technology?

Dr Michelle Ponti, a paediatrician and chair of the Digital Health task force at the CPS, reported that, based on recent research in Canada, children under two years old should not be getting any screen time at all, while children between the ages of two and five should be limited to a maximum of two hours a day – and that includes television time.

Once you start searching for research reports on this topic, you realise that the question is not necessarily whether young children should be exposed to technology, but rather, why you would want to share your tech gadgets with your toddler.

So, before exposing your toddler to technology, consider the following: 

  • Children should have a screen time limit, based on age. A maximum of two hours screen time per day is a good general guideline for toddlers. 
  • Technology steals the time your child should be using to explore, create, craft, or for imaginary play. You cannot replace this time at a later stage – if your child missed out on these activities as a toddler, it cannot be caught up when he or she is older.
  • Screen time can be divided between education and entertainment. However, to do this successfully, you must ask yourself why you want your child to sit in front of the television instead of playing with his toys. Is it to learn something? Or is it to keep him entertained without breaking anything or hurting himself? Incorporating educational digital content, such as interactive digital storybooks, where the child can hear the correct pronunciation of certain words, can be very advantageous. Another good example of a locally developed digital program for kids from the age of four, is the CAMI Perceptual Skills Builder. This program addresses basic perceptual skills such as colour, shape, spatial orientation, retention and quantity in both English and Afrikaans.
  • Technology can be a useful tool to actively spend family time together as it serves as a platform for parents to play age appropriate games with their children while actually having fun themselves. We know that the best time spent with children is when you enter their arena, not when you invite them into yours. 

Exposing toddlers to technology before the age of two is not recommended. As they get older, however, the true value of technology for toddlers lies in shared experiences with parents, whether that is to read an interactive book or build a shelter in Minecraft together! 

When in doubt about allowing technology in your toddler’s life, keep in mind that the playful learning and cognitive development that happens when a little girl dresses her doll before they visit the queen for a tea party, cannot be regained at a later stage. 

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