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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Guidance on technology for toddlers

toddlers-tech-coverI received a press release for a new book, Toddlers on Technology (AuthorHouse, 2013) and my first thought was, shouldn’t the pages be blank? Toddlers don’t need technology—they need to be playing with blocks and books and looking for bugs in the dirt, right?

But “digitods,” the authors’ name for toddlers growing up in a digital technology-immersed world, want the shiny tech gadgets their parents are addicted to. There are apps that promote and facilitate learning. Even so, the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends no screen time before age 2 and limited screen time after that because learning in the real world, person-to-person, is better developmentally for children. JoAnn Deak, PhD, concurred during her recent presentation in Phoenix, though she recommended kids be 3 years old before any screen time.

The authors, Pattie Wollman Summers, M.Ed, Ann DeSollar-Hale, PhD, and Heather Ibrahim-Leathers, CFA, bring a wide range of experience and expertise to their subject. Wollman has been the head of the Parenting Program at the The Mandell School in New York City for over thirty years. DeSollar-Hale is a neuropsychologist and Ibrahim-Leathers is a financial analyst and founder of the Global Fund for Widows, a nonprofit dedicated to providing economic empowerment to widows and female heads of household in the developing world.

Their advice is solid and sensible. Kids can learn with apps on tablets and smartphones, but it’s a solitary activity that excludes communicating with peers. The book asks and answers the question all parents should ask themselves before they hand a tablet or smartphone to their child: “Is all this technology really okay for my child?”

The book advocates a balanced approach to technology for toddlers. A tablet with a quality app to teach shapes, colors, letters, numbers, etc. gives a child an interactive environment with immediate feedback and positive reinforcement. But screen time needs to be balanced with other activities and parents need to plan and implement this balance. Just taking the iPad away is not enough. Toddlers need non-tech activities and interactions with people to balance time with electronic gadgets.

Parents looking for a reasonable discussion about how to make technology a constructive part of a toddler’s life will enjoy this book. It doesn’t cite longitudinal research on the effect of tablet and smartphone apps on kids because the technology hasn’t been around long enough for long-term research to yield meaningful conclusions. But the book does refer to applicable research on technology and children.

The book reviews ten apps for iPads and iPhones, what to look for in apps and what to avoid. The reviews describe the pros and cons of the apps as well as what learning styles do best with each. Since the authors advocate for balance between tech-time and real-world play, there are “see-saw” activities after each app review to extend learning away from gadgets and into the physical world.

More app reviews would be helpful. The authors review only Apple apps, so Droid and Samsung users will need to look for equivalent apps on those platforms. Unfortunately, the Digitod website has only four reviews. Hopefully there will be more in the future, since the reviews are thorough and useful.

The real value of the book is the thoughtful discussion on how to make constructive use of technology with toddlers.

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Daniel Friedman

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