When to introduce tech to children

(BPT) - If you're a parent with a smartphone or tablet, it didn’t take long before your little one first reached for your shiny device. If only their fingers weren't covered in slobber at the time, you may have been more willing to hand it over. The good news is that saliva is easy to wipe off! S’mores? Not so much.

To your surprise — and theirs — learning how to swipe and tap objects to make them move on the screen came quickly and naturally. Oftentimes the challenge soon becomes how to keep their hands off the device. It's perfectly acceptable, even beneficial, for young children to have these interactions with technology ... but only with appropriate parental guidance.

How young is too young?

Young children can strengthen their interactions with other family members, as well as improve their familiarity with sounds, words, language and the world around them, through the responsible use of technology. Most experts agree, however, that children under the age of 2 probably shouldn't trade their rattles in for tablets. There are enough real-world interactions to keep them busy, and whether they play with blocks or pull the cat's tail, these tangible experiences are important to their development. There will be plenty of time to show them Angry Birds when they're a bit older, so allow them to develop their senses by exploring, touching things and even getting into a little mischief.

Once beyond the 24-month mark, you can begin introducing technology to your little tyke. Chances are he or she may already enjoy the privilege at preschool; many toddler day-care centers and preschools now incorporate technology, from computers to tablets, into their curriculum.

Kids’ access to digital media

Whether at school or at home, most youngsters interact with screens before they turn 5. According to a survey conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, more than eight in 10 children from age 2 to 10 use digital media every week. In fact, two-thirds have tablets or e-readers. While the interactions are practically inevitable, significant parental and caregiver involvement can help steer them in the right direction, ensuring kids are exposed to content providing the best opportunities for learning.

Between laptop computers, desktop PCs, tablets, televisions and smartphones, there's probably a screen in nearly every room of your home. Although these screens can and often do serve as virtual babysitters, games, apps and other content should be carefully selected, and screen time should be limited to an hour or less a day for toddlers.

Parental involvement

By using technology with your children, you'll introduce them to the most beneficial content, while also bonding with them over an exciting, shared experience. Something as simple and fun as taking turns in a game or reading together on a tablet can also help ensure technology is being consumed in a responsible way that can educate and aid development.

While education is key, it doesn't always have to be about learning your ABCs and 123s. Plenty of games and apps combine learning and entertainment experiences that are fun for kids. Checking the ESRB age and content rating information in console and online stores (like the Nintendo eShop, the PlayStation Store, the Xbox Store and Windows Store) is a great way to find appropriate games for kids of all ages. ESRB ratings are also assigned to mobile games and apps in the Google Play Store, complete with content descriptors and interactive elements when applicable.

As your little ones mature from toddlers to tweens, their use of technology as well as the technology itself will certainly evolve. The breadth of content they enjoy will greatly expand, highlighting the importance of parental involvement in managing and monitoring their time with tech. Regardless of where our smartphones and tablets take us, parental involvement and engagement is key to ensuring kids enjoy a healthy, responsible relationship with technology.

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