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Is technology good or bad for toddlers?

Many parents worry about their children spending too much time in front of a screen and experts advise that limits need to be set. There is however, a whole host of educational and therapeutic uses for tablets (iPads) and smartphones (iPhones), and there are times when the distraction can be a godsend to frazzled parents.
Director of Earlybirds Speech Pathology (see Resources) in Sydney, Hayley Simmonds specialises in the early intervention of speech and language difficulties in young children. She uses her iPad with children as young as three years old, using a variety of apps that target speech articulation, language and early literacy skills. Hayley says: “It’s easy for parents who have an iPad at home to practise with their children between speech therapy sessions, by downloading the apps that target their child's goals.”

Apps as therapy

Sydney-based paediatric speech pathologist, Kirsten Wakefield uses an iPad with around 75 per cent of her patients. Kirsten uses apps such as KidFunKit The Story and iCommunicate that help increase focus, offer a high level of motivation and develop fine motor skills. “There are some apps that allow the parent to record their own voice, which is particularly useful in treating children with autism and those who need support with their speech.”
Kirsten does, however, caution their unsupervised use. Children, even toddlers, quickly learn to navigate around apps and may run into unsuitable viewing material (on YouTube for example). Not to mention the fact that iPads may be easily damaged!

Too much screen time

However, there is another argument. Dr Ruth Schmidt Neven is a clinical psychologist and child psychotherapist at the Centre for Child and Family Development (Resources) in Melbourne. She believes that having automatic access to electronic equipment such as iPads can cause problems, “mainly because it supersedes and overwhelms the capacity of the child (particularly the younger child) to develop a fantasy world of their own at their own pace.”
Dr Ruth also says that on a practical level they need to learn to be alone with their own thoughts. She adds that children who are constantly distracted by technology from a young age, don’t learn how to tolerate the ‘boring’ bits of life.

Ask a Woolies’ mum

Woolies’ mum Eugenie Pepper, from NSW, says, “My three-year-old and my four-year-old love our iPad and love our iPhones. I love all the educational apps, Build A Word, etc. Most of them are clever and fun, and I can see my kids learning. I regret getting the games like Angry Birds. My son is really into it and not playing the educational apps as much now.”
South Australian Woolies’ mum Belinda Jennings agrees: “My one-year-old and my three-year-old love it. My three-year-old plays mostly on Sesame Street, which is great for learning dexterity and letters, and so on. I don’t mind him playing on it as I think he’s learning and it’s far more interactive than a book or TV show. He has learnt shapes, puzzles and dexterity, which I think is great! When we look at what we might spend on books or toys, apps are very inexpensive, and they can adapt to our kids as they progress and grow. My one-year-old is just getting the hang of it and loves Elmo's ABC, Fisher-Price Where’s Puppy’s Nose and Flashcards.”

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