HELP! My Child Wants To Know About Digital Technology – and He’s Only 2!

As we sat by a computer, my 22 month-old granddaughter uttered her first complete sentence to me. It was: “Grandma, you have to double click.” That’s when I knew I was in a different universe. And now it is clear: our digital toddlers, whom we call Digitods, are here to stay.

Why? It’s not surprising. Infants are very interested in the world, and especially in the people around them. In fact, one of the ways a baby can tell us what he or she is thinking is via their gaze. Watch babies and see how often their eyes are glancing at a piece of digital technology in their parents’ or siblings’ hands. It is not surprising, then, that when a baby can finally grasp an item within his or her reach, it turns out to be exactly what is so fascinating to the rest of the world.

Moms and Dads are always checking their smartphones, tablets or computers. Yet they are surprised when their Digitods are interested as well. Not only are toddlers interested – they are good at maneuvering these technological wonders. Think about it: all a toddler needs to do is be able to swipe, tap and pinch. These are skills most Digitods acquire between 12-14 months. So, a few months later, not only are they using objects their parents use, they are competent at doing so!

Here’s the dilemma most parents are facing: just because my child is good at using a smartphone, should he or she be playing with it? Will using an iPhone or Android hurt his development by turning him into a robot who cannot understand human relations?
What is the best path to take to help create a healthy well-balanced child?

First, Don’t stop your child from using a digital device unless you are willing to stop also. Since that will never happen in today’s world, consider taking control of the situation.

Here are some tips:

1. Plan a time in the day for tablet use. Don’t just try to hide your iPad when you are not using it. Your son or daughter will find it and use it anyway. So let your child know that there is time in the morning and/or time in the afternoon for digital entertainment.

2. Tell your child how much time she will be spending on any digital device. Little kids don’t understand time, but they do understand that there will be a time limit. If you need to, use a timer and give a two-minute warning.

3. For the rest of the day, make sure you include active play like going to a playground, social time with other children, and time to use their imagination by playing with other toys and games.

Remember that, just like any human being, a happy child is one that takes pleasure in many things!

Published on: October 29, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Patti Wollman Summers

Patti Wollman Summers obtained two masters degrees, the first in English from SUNY Buffalo and the second in early childhood education from Bank Street College. She has been a teacher, director and consultant for over three decades. Wollman Summers recently co-authored the new parenting guide, “Toddlers ON Technology.

Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
Add your comment

Recent Comments

How unfortunate that it has gotten to the point where children under five are using Ipads and not playing with blocks as the norm. That I am reading an article in a well respected group supporting this. Dr. Greene has been gioven information on the radiation from these devices and it is shameful at this point that he and other pediatricians are not taking action to educate parents on the issue. Ipads emit more radiation than your cell phone. Cell phone radiation is a Class 2 B carcinogen and damages DNA and neurons in small mammals. What else is there to know? ewg dna

Thanks for your comment, Penelope. I appreciate your passion on this issue.

I’m always glad when I see a young child engaged in active or imaginative play using simple toys or props. (And I’m glad Patti Wollman Summers wrote in this article urging parents to take control of digital tools so as to create space for that type of play.)

On cellular safety issues, I agree with the conclusion of the link you posted from my friends at EWG:

“Although research on lab animals does not prove that cell phone radiation harms people, EWG recommends taking a precautionary approach by using a handset or speaker, holding the phone away from the body, texting instead of talking when possible and calling when the signal is strong. And of course, don’t text or talk while driving or bicycling.”

Minimizing risks is wise. The sun, which gives us life and welcomingly raises our vitamin D, also emits dangerous UV radiation. To be healthy we need to limit exposure.

The automobile is one of the most deadly technologies invented. Still, because of the benefits, I often put my kids in one (other good parents, though, choose not to). But I take steps to minimize the risks (using seat belts, air bags, not driving too tired, not texting and driving, etc). And I’m excited about new technologies that will minimize risks further (adaptive cruise control and other safety innovations on the near horizon).

Credible scientists have done credible research suggesting health risks from cellular devices. Other credible scientists have done credible research not finding such problems. We still have much to learn.

To me, the 2B carcinogen classification seems appropriate: by which the IARC means radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are a _possible_ carcinogen where “there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” This list of possible carcinogens includes some dangerous chemicals as well as coffee and pickled vegetables.

As you suggest, tablet devices can emit a stronger field than cell phones.

For parents who use tablets with their kids (and other good parents will choose not to) I agree with Patti’s 3 tips above (limiting time and encouraging other activities). I also suggest, when practical:

1. Having the device in airplane mode with the wireless off.
2. Using the device on a table or desk and not on the lap (even a small distance from the body greatly decreases radiation). Or at least using a pillow.
3. Considering a case that reduces the radiation.

We live in an amazing world. Growing up is an adventure. So is parenting. We encounter risks whether we play sports, ride a bike, eat a meal, go outside, or stay inside.

As parents we want to create ample space for our children’s minds and bodies to be active and to explore, nurturing and protecting them as we are able.