Whether the only mouse your tot knows is Mickey or he's a whiz with your iPad, it's important for you to know the upsides and downsides of technology for children.
These days, the question isn’t if your child will be computer literate, it’s when — and how soon is too soon to start thinking about technology for children. Some experts believe that children who become computer-savvy early on are better prepared for school, while others say too much technology is, well, too much at such a tender age. Here’s how to sort through the advantages and disadvantages of being a techno-tot and figure out what’s best when it comes to young children and computers.
Technology for children can:
- Fine-tune fine-motor skills. Pushing keys and manipulating a mouse gives those chubby toddler hands and fingers the same type of valuable workout they get from finger painting or doodling (though without the creative kick of these more artistic dexterous endeavors). These fine-motor movements also hone eye-hand coordination, and that’ll pay off for years to come as your little one learns to catch a ball, use scissors, or put together a tricky puzzle.
- Teach cause and effect. It’s no secret that toddlers and preschoolers love playthings they can manipulate (oh, that satisfying sense of control!) like pop-up books and anything with levers, switches, or buttons. That’s why young children and computers work well together — they dig it when they click on a character or icon (or perhaps choose the right letter or color) and — voila! — something happens.
- Not enough people time. Computer games might be interactive, but typically only between the user and the screen. But people — especially little children — need to interact with other people to develop empathy, build social skills…and have face-to-face fun! Plus, no educational software can compete with you in the teaching department.
- Not enough hands-on time. There’s a reason why toddlers touch everything — and get into everything: That’s the way they learn about the world around them. Whether it’s shoveling sand into a pail (and then dumping it out again), figuring out how to stack three blocks so they don’t tumble down, or mixing water with dirt to make mud (try doing that on a computer screen), a hands-on approach to toddler learning beats high-tech hands down.
- Too much stimulation. It’s easy for a toddler or preschooler to get overwhelmed by all those sensory effects — loud sounds, bold colors, flashing lights, and endless action. If your little one seems to get cranky or easily frustrated after a computer session, try scaling back the screen time; instead have him devote more hours to old-fashioned toddler pursuits like taking a scooter spin around the hood, reading a book, or sculpting a clay castle. Another potential problem of mixing young children and computers: Kids who become too dependent on all that stimulation may have trouble later focusing on quieter pastimes (like reading or drawing) and paying attention to less high-tech educational mediums (say, a teacher and a blackboard).
- Too much sedentary time. Sure, computers are mentally stimulating, but toddlers (and everyone for that matter) need to get moving. Physical play is key to toddler growth — it helps build strong muscles and it’s a primary way little kids discover what their bodies can do. Plus, habits established early on tend to stick, for better and for worse, so be a good role model: Limit screen time (TV too) and incorporate plenty of physical activity (digging holes, sliding down slides, and freeze-dancing count) into every day.