Toddlers and technology: are we exposing them to the screens too early?

toddlertechAre we exposing our toddlers to the technology too early? Does it matter that they can find their way around a touchscreen before they can walk or talk?

We all worry that the moment of peace we get when handing over the iphone or ipad is going to come back and bite us. Is it another thing to add to the list of parent guilt? Like our parents who worried about our use of TV ‘dumbing us down’, are we facing the same challenges with todays devices?

So far the research says no….as long as its interactive and as long as we are able to put down some strict time limits.

I didn’t have this problem with my first 3 kids.  They had no phone or ipad to grab. I took only pencils, paper and matchbox cars to a cafe, and that was seen as OK. Expanding their creative minds. Letting their imaginative play run wild whilst I caught up with my besties at the local café. But is there a sense of ‘copping out’ when we hand over the tech? Is it the easy pacifier, the lazy babysitter?

According to a study form the University of Wisconsin this week, 2 year olds were happier with an interactive screen rather than one they merely watched. They much prefer swiping and sending rather than merely ogling.

For slightly older kids, tests were performed with word learning and those that were used to interacting with the screen got better faster and made fewer mistakes. The study concluded that we are not turning them in to geniuses ….we are just giving them access to a little more information and some more skills to aid their learning.

I still think only time will tell. We can’t possibly have any conclusive research as our kids now are the first ones to really have ‘grown up’ with this stuff.

So heres what I think should be appropriate when looking at toddlers and technology:

  • Make sure that this is not the only means of distraction at your disposal.


  • Ensure that sometimes you say no ‘just because’. Because you want them to be able to interact in other ways, communicate effectively and have other means at their disposal to ‘beat the boredom’.


  • When they do play games, try to find some that are both fun and educational. This should be pretty easy as there are gazillion good quality apps out there.


  • Play the games with them. This can still be a great bonding time for parents and toddlers.


  • Online readers and books are great but give them access to the real life turning the pages stuff as well.


  • Remember you will always be your kids greatest role model. Make sure they see you put the phones down to give people their full attention. Be sure to balance the tech time with other pursuits, interests and interactions.


It is certainly a different world now for my toddlers than it was even for my tweens just 10 years ago. Remember that we are the parents and must keep it under control. The technology is great, but we are still the boss of what they do and how much time they do it for. So get in early and teach them good habits that will take them through their adolescent years and help them enjoy the technology in a safe and responsible way.

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Tara

    I’ve found the issue with the gadgets is also the social aspect. I feel sad when cousins etc..sit at family gatherings with their heads buried in their parents phone or DS instead of interacting with their cousins or chatting with family. The whole pencil / colouring in I think is great because it’s a meaningful distraction but kids are also still ‘present’ enough to engage in conversation rather than turning into zombies with a gadget. I definetly agree we need to teach kids good habits! 😉

    1. Martine

      Thanks Tara. I think that’s why it’s really important to be able to tell kids to put gadgets down, and have them do so without a fight. This is much more easily achieved if it is down from the start. When cousins or friends come around, we need to be able to say, “ok, devices down…now go and play”.

  2. Jodi

    I think you need to find a happy medium. My two kids, a 3 year and a near 2 year old, LOVE the ipad. I do say no sometimes just because, but at the same time when they do play with it, they are interacting with it, singing along, counting, saying the alphabet. It has been a great learning tool.

    I will often play things with them too. If we don’t let our kids experience some of these technologies they will certainly be behind when they get to kindergarten and get handed an iPad on their first day.

    We sometimes are guilty as using it as a means of distraction so we can have a coffee or breakfast in public, but I also use the technique of talking to them and pointing out things around us, I use books or colouring in. The iphone or ipad is the last resort, and if we have made it through the first 20 minutes without one we have succeeded.

    1. Martine

      Absolutely finding the balance is key. They are a fabulous learning tool and can be great for interaction… you said as long as they are able to put it down and take part happily in other pursuits.

  3. Collett Smart

    Great post Martine. Technology is here to stay and we need not be afraid of it. Finding the balance is key and I suppose not just using it as the new babysitter (which TV filled before).

    1. Martine

      Thanks Collett. And yes i do think it can be used as a convenient distraction for short periods…..just not all the time.

  4. Great tips!

    I must admit the last week or so I have been guilty of letting Punky have more time that I would like on the iPad, purely because I am just s exhausted as I get to the very end of this pregnancy and its easier to sit together on the lounge to play with one of her apps than to get down on the floor and play with her blocks or other toys. It is something that I am trying to limit, but I have decided that for the next month or so not to feel guilty about the times I hand it over when I need to be with the baby and in time we will figure out ways to do other stuff once I’m not pregnant or dealing with a demanding newborn.

    1. Martine

      No need to feel guilty about that either Kylez. You gotta do what you gotta do, and the very fact that you are conscious of the time spent on it show that you ate aware enough to keep a balance. And as i said , the research does say that no harm is to be done, especially if you are still interacting with your child whilst they are playing.

  5. Miss Cinders

    Great post Martine, and I couldn’t agree more!

    I’ve found getting the kids to balance their computer time as they get older is harder and harder, especially since the older kids now have their own computers.

    I made the move recently and locked them out of our home wi-fi so now they have to hook up using the erthenet cord. So far it’s working enabling us to keep track of their computer time, but it’s a learning curve for them.

    MC x

    1. Martine

      That’s great Miss Cinders and you are right that it certainly gets harder as they get older. It is important to find solutions that work for your family.

  6. Really interesting post. My three year old hasn’t had much to do with technology. She doesn’t play games online or use apps or anything like that. Alot of my friends’ kids do though and I wonder whether it might not be a bad idea to expose my daugther to it every now and then so when she goes to school she’s not completely behind everyone else?! I’m still undecided.

    1. Martine

      I think you shouldn’t worry too much if its not something she needs to be doing right now. We also know how quickly our kids pick this stuff up….so it won’t be long before she is swiping away with the most experienced of them! Enjoy having something less to nag about for a while longer!

  7. Great points. Technology is something that we can’t escape so as parents the best we can do is be proactive and monitor its use. Same with everything- moderation and balance.

    1. Martine

      So true…. Moderation and balance!

  8. Kristy Goodwin

    A great article that addresses this tricky issue. As a children’s technology researcher, I admit that we are lagging behind the technology. We are literally conducting a bit of a living experiment in terms of children and technology. From the initial research, parents can rest assured that small amounts of age-appropropriate screen-time (preferably interactive screens) are not harmful to children. As wisely suggested by some of the other comments, balance is key. We need to remember that this technology will not be un-invented (the genie is out of the bottle), so we need to look at how we can best harness it.

  9. James Robinson

    It’s a great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Personally, I think that the introduction of the children at young age on these gadgets will stimulate their minds more which means that their intelligence will increase as they have more access to information. On the other hand, there will be a significant change on their attitude or behavior which threatens the social structure in the next 20-30 years making their generation more complicated.

  10. Cheree Robinson

    Great article!

    We are a BIG technology family and all of our children ( 7, 5 and 3) have an ipad.

    The older two are at school and we needed to purchase them an ipad for their school work (they need them at school)

    It’s amazing what the 3yr old can do and what she has learnt from using the iPad. I have no doubt that my kids will be a step ahead in the future knowing about technology.

    The older girls are learning mandarin at school and we’ve downloaded apps to help with that and Miss 3 speaks a few manadarin words as a result.

    I should add the school has been brilliant about cyber safety / online bullying etc and the kids were made to sign an ipad agreement.. To me this is something that I was most worried about with them having ipads.

    They dont have access to wifi at home unless I let them and their time is limited.

  11. Sam Stone

    I find some of the games on the Tablet are great for kids. Our 5 year old plays them and learns many new things. We have set times as to when she can use it though.

  12. Neets

    Great post. I am really conscious of this with my toddlers. It’s probably the one thing I have been really protective of. I just spent a week on the Gold Coast. We walked into a Japanese restaurant & every second parents kids walked in with iPods under their arms. My 3 year old son walked up to 3 young children playing their games side by side. He looked at me then back at them & I was worried. He then proceeded to play with his toy truck beside them. Made me proud 🙂

  13. It was never concerned us but we just got iPads and they are HOT commodities around here! However, I’m a bit of a educational only freak – I don’t mind some games. I also limit time. But as you say it’s leading by example that is most important 🙂

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