Parents have been asking me lots of questions as to whether their infants and toddlers should be learning from apps available on smart media devices like phones and tablets. Also, they’ve been asking whether these devices truly help young children get smarter. Let me swipe away some of your concerns and provide some information on this topic.

A study recently published revealed that by age 2, three quarters of children were or are using smart devices to play games or watch videos.  This is despite the fact that the current policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to minimize screen time before age 2 years. After that age, the recommendation is to limit all screen time for young children to no more than two hours a day. 

Following those guidelines is easier said than done. In fact, parents say they give their young children these devices to bide time while parents get their own work done or to keep their children calm in public places or to help them go to sleep. Despite the high usage, the studies that say these devices or certain apps improve child development are few and far between.

So what do I recommend? I suggest that like anything else in your young child’s environment, if you can’t keep your young child away from these devices, set limits on their use, and choose quality apps and games with the help of organizations like Common Sense Media rather than just plugging in a video for them to watch.

Don’t use these devices as time-occupying pacifiers and never substitute the use of these devices for human interactive playtime. In fact, only let your toddler use an app if you are going to play with him or her to promote social interactions, bonding and learning.

Hopefully parents will app-ly these tips so that we all do a better job of helping young children’s minds develop with or without a smart device.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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