SPECIAL REPORT: Digital devices and children

(WTVM) - From smartphones to tablets, our children are growing up in a digital media world.

Experts say smart devices can have both positive and negative impacts on your child's development.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Mary Beth Milner loves sitting on her mom's lap and reading books, and so does 2-year-old Jersey Johnson Cole.

Jersey's mom allows her limited access to her smart phone and iPad for educational games and kid-appropriate videos.

She says balancing screen time with other play time is important to her.

"Because on the one hand you don't want to much and on the other hand technology is the wave of the future and you want them to be able to navigate," said parent Tiffany Johnson-Cole.

Mary Beth's mom also uses smart devices to entertain and educate her children...

"Sometimes when I am cooking or if I don't want to watch Mickey Mouse Club House all day, so she can watch it on her iPad," said parent Elizabeth Milner.

But this mom always monitors what her little one is watching.

"Mary Beth sits with me a lot when she's on it," Elizabeth said. "I'll be sitting in a chair and she is next to me so I just glance down and see what's she's watching."

"We don't rely on parental controls, we are always in earshot and asking what are you looking at," Milner said. "I also go through the browser history. I guess that is the attorney in me. You can't depend on a device controls, you have to stay on top of it to make sure they are safe."

Child Psychologist Polly Dunn says both moms are doing exactly what they need to do - staying involved and aware of their child's screen time and content.

"And that way when they get older and teens or pre-teen and you can be involved with their apps and they know mom cares about what they are doing on the iPad, so it's a good way to transition into later social media use," Dunn said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero smart device use for children younger than 18 months.

"You should be interacting with your child up until that point and bonding with them. but 18 months you can begin introducing it to them, then at 2 years old you can do an hour a day at that goes until they are 5 years old," Dunn said. "But an hour really isn't that long, so I think it is important parents keep it in moderation and what is good for your family is most important."

Mary Beth would rather play with her mom than the iPad, same as Jersey.

Dunn says if your child consistently begins choosing a smart device over other types of playing, it's time to step in.

"The iPad is very exciting and it can make stuff more exciting, but they need to read books or do something else so it's important not just offer them a choice but say we are going outside now and not leave it up to the child," Dunn said. "I'd say my best advice is to be a good role model. when you do it your toddler is going to pick up on it. so if you are on your phone or on your computer your toddler is going to want to do it too."

While smart devices are fun and can be used to enhance your child's education, nothing can ever replace a parent's love, attention and time.

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