Limit computers for children under 2

My 18-month-old is very interested in the computer. Are there any programs to help her start learning about the computer at this age?

Young children are very curious by nature. They may seem to be interested in technology, but often it is because a parent is using a computer, talking on a cell phone or fiddling with the remote control to the television.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long supported a “screen-free” environment for children under 2. When it was originally created in 1999, the AAP policy statement addressed only TV exposure. The group included video in an updated statement this fall and warns that heavy media exposure is associated with delayed language development in young children.

Does this mean your child should never touch the family iPad or computer? Not really. Parents should carefully consider their child’s use of other screens-computers, iPads and even cell phones. Digital books and games designed for very young children can be entertaining, but should always be combined with adult interaction. Electronic play in this age group should be the exception, not the rule.

The best thing you can do to help your child develop a love of learning and prepare her to explore computers and technology as she grows is by following three simple rules:

  1. Play, play, play. The best way to lay a foundation for a child’s love of learning is through unstructured play. Engage your child and provide lots of time and opportunities for discovering the environment around her. The skills she learns while exploring the world will prepare her to tackle technology when the time is right.
  2. Limit toddler tech time. Avoid putting your toddler down in front of the TV or allowing computer games, especially before nap or bedtime. An app in your lap in a doctor’s waiting room might be a perfectly fine way to pass the time, but strict limits on screens will serve your child’s best interests.
  3. Watch your own habits. Consider how much time you spend distracted on a cell phone or surfing your social network. A parent’s tech habits can distract from playtime, and videos and TV can create noisy background interference for a developing child. Tuck your tech gadgets away, turn off the TV and wait until your toddler is napping before logging into the computer.

Sharon Cindrich is the mother of two and author of American Girl’s A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet and A Smart Girl’s Guide to Style.

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