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The Right Age for Smartphones and Tablets


Published June 3, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.


Q: We've all heard about toddlers who try to turn the page in a book or magazine by swiping it as if it were a tablet. At what age is it OK for young children to be exposed to smartphones and tablets?

A: More and more studies are pointing toward the adverse effects of too much screen time — including TV — for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear in its guidelines about "screens." The AAP recommends that infants and children under age 2 avoid TV and other electronic entertainment media altogether. "A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years," its guidelines state, "and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."

But according to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing families with information and education on media and technology, 38 percent of all children under age 2 have used a mobile device. Children are using these devices to play games, use apps, watch videos and TV shows, and read books. It's all around us. And we all know that sometimes a game on our mobile device is the thing that will help our child calm down and focus.

My advice is to carefully consider how much time your children, at any age, spend in front of screens, especially as compared to the amount of time you're interacting with your little ones directly through play and contact. Look for moderation in screen time, and focus on being present with your children.

When you do let them play with an app or a game, sit and play with them. Use it as an opportunity to share time with them, not just distract them. 

—Elaine Young is the author of Tuned-In Family: How to Cope, Communicate & Connect in a Digital World, and is a professor at Champlain College, where she specializes in digital marketing and social media. Got a question about navigating the digital world with your family? Send it to [email protected].

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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