Toddlers and Technology: Embrace or Reject?

by Jeana Shandraw from www.SurfandSunshine.com

Introducing technology to children at an early age seems to be a hot topic these days. Most experts sternly frown upon any tech exposure at all before the age of 2, with a consensus of 2 hours per day being the max allowed thereafter. While I agree that these generalized guidelines may be appropriate for “mindless” technological entertainment, I don’t feel they can or should be applied to early education technology.

Now, “what is this early education technology you speak of?” you ask. My personal definition would be “any type of technology or advancement that is introduced to children at an early age to enhance or further educational learning or skills”. (Yes, I just made that up. Please feel free to add it to Wikipedia for me.) As with all things in life, to me, it is what you make of it. When parents make a conscientious choice of the programs their children are exposed to, they are able to actively cultivate a lifetime enjoyment and thirst for learning. (Woah folks, I’m on a roll!) I not only embrace technology in early education, I would, like totally, marry it if I could.

Having been brought up with a techie geek for a dad, I was constantly immersed in every new electronic gadget we could acquire. We went from the Atari (800, 5200 and ST) to the Commodore (64 and 128) and then made the leap to our first personal computer – a Tandy (Zork anyone?).

Fast forward to 10 years later and I’m now teaching my dad about this cool “internet” that I used daily as a Physics Assistant at USC – years before it became commercialized into the WWW in 1995.
The point to my history lesson here was that it was inevitable that I would also unabashedly throw computers and technology at my first born! Cut me open and I will probably bleed binary 0s and 1s. I readily admit that my son has received countless hours of technological exposure since he was just a little guy, and I would not change a thing.

It, of course, started with my father. He didn’t let me down and gave my son his very own iPad when he was just 10 months old. By the time he was one year old, he could recognize the upper case letters of the alphabet. With the help of a Baby Sign Language DVD (yes, that he watched on the evil television), he also knew over 100 words and was “speaking” in sentences to me. At 18 months old, Whistler could recognize all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet. At 20 months old, he could say all the letters of the alphabet and numbers 0-9. I whole heartedly give credit for this feat to this iPad app.

I’m not a certified instructor or accredited teacher, but I do know that repetition is key in learning new things, especially for children. The iPad is a wonderful tool that accomplishes this task while also engaging and encouraging its users. (When was the last time a flash card said your name and sang you a song for getting the answer right?) I am, however, very picky about what he watches on TV and plays on the iPad. All shows and apps must have an educational value, so shows like Tom and Jerry or apps like that stupid cat that records and repeats back what you say in a high pitched voice are NOT allowed.

I can remember early on, when the other women at Mommy and Me would look at me in disgust as I handed over my iPhone to my son after class while I spoke to another mom. They close mindedly assumed that I was merely handing him a distraction and didn’t bother to look and see what was really going on. He was learning. He was creating words from the letters on the screen. He was naming animals that most adults didn’t even know existed. That “thing” that the other moms were so petrified of exposing their children to “too early” had placed my child leaps and bounds ahead of theirs intellectually, which meant he was also able to communicate with me more effectively.

My son has a sweet disposition by nature, but I am certain that without his advanced communication skills (acquired from exposure to a ton of technology from mom) we would not have been able to “skip” things like temper tantrums and inconsolable crying. We luckily learned to communicate with each other very early on and this, I feel, has created an incredible blanket of confidence and security that has only strengthened our relationship. I have found that when used in moderation, and not as a replacement babysitter, early exposure to technology can provide some amazing benefits to both you and your children.

81 thoughts on “Toddlers and Technology: Embrace or Reject?

  1. I have to wholeheartedly agree! As long as we are picking and choosing what technology we are exposing our children to, and ensuring that it is enriching and educating them then it can be a wonderful tool in early development!! I have seen my 3 year old learn SO much on his iPad – letters, numbers, shapes, sign language, and more! And he ENJOYS learning – which is so important! I am headed over to check out the app you recommend for my 18 month old! Thanks for this great article- it’s nice to see I am not the only one who sees the huge potential for learning and I will be sharing this post with others as well!

  2. Agreed! My brother and I were teaching ourselves HTML when we were 12 and 14, and my daughter who is three can easily use our Kindle Fire. I think it’s important as technology progresses to constantly stay connected and keep up with the times. I lagged for just a few years and it was so hard to get caught up again!!!

  3. Great food for thought. My husband and I had this discussion recently, too. It’s amazing the info about technology that kids absorb even when you’re not trying to teach them. My daughter recently mentioned Google +. No idea how she knows what that is! We try to expose our kids to age-appropriate technology as much as we can, too. It’s the world we live in. They need to keep up!

  4. Pingback: Toddlers and Technology: Embrace or Reject? | iLearnWith | EliTech - English Language & Instructional Technology | Scoop.it

  5. I totally agree… it absolutely depends on the content. Our 1st grader can type as fast as me almost because we let him Skype when his dad was in Iraq. For homework, they already assign a computer math program that gives it a fun and visual aide to math so it’s not dry/boring…
    I also think kids should be kids… GO OUTSIDE and play!!
    Balance! :)

  6. I don’t much care for the technology encompassing the world. Yes it does great things and is for sure quite entertaining, but overall, we’ve lost the zeal of actually LIVING life a great deal—smelling the roses, playing outside, etc…. finding something to do with their time that DOESN’T take batteries or a plug is near impossible these days for most and that means communication and human interaction has taken a dive downward too. Many I know close to me agree. I’m considering cancelling a lot and going back to one home phone and be done with it—get back to living LIFE and less dependence on technology so that should any of it be taken away, at least I’ll be able to survive happily! Batteries will never die and keep me from reading a true book of paper, ink, and cardboard!!! ;)

    • I totally agree with you. I think we are so busy putting our kids in front of something we call “educational” and forget that really, they learn best from hands on and real world experience. Technology becomes a baby sitter all for the excuse of learning.

  7. I also believe in balance. Our family lives very simply, so we have very basic phones, our TV still has tubing in it (if you can imagine 29 year olds with such an archaic device), we don’t have cable or satellite and our only game system is the original Xbox. So we don’t choose to put a lot of our money or attention into our technology. Our daughter only watches about one show a day (usually something on PBS). I don’t look down on other moms who use technology with their kids, unless their kid is glued to it and even then, I guess you just don’t know what their story is, so how can one judge?

  8. technology is good till a point we live in a high tech world now so its nice for them to learn it but to always moniter it because of the dangerous predators

  9. I agree! As long as it’s educational, I have no problem with dd watching/playing with it! I just wish I had known about baby signs when she was a baby (she’s 4)! Oh well there’s always the next one!

  10. I totally agree that technology can be a great learning tool, but feel the 2 hour a limit per day is pretty appropriate. Isn’t it awesome that our parents are now online. A few years ago my own mom couldn’t use the computer and now she is blogging. :)

  11. I love technology and think it definitely has its place in early childhood education. (teacher here..). I just think parents need to set limits, because unfortunately when technology turns in to your replacement, it’s not good for the child or the parent. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I agree and I think technology is a great learning tool for kids of all ages. However, it is also good to break away from computers and tablets and do real life activities.

  13. I think technology is a great learning tool but kids today don’t seem to have very good analytical skills as the answer to everything they need is basically available through Google.

  14. I’m on the same page. I think there are many educational opportunities for children by introducing them to technology at an early age–when they absorb things quickly. Times have changed. :)

  15. One must be vigilant in censoring and overseeing the content their child comes across. Technology is great but lets not forget the importance of social skills.

  16. I think technology for kids is fine and the more they can learn the better….because the things you can do on them these days are amazing. unfortunately some people (myself included) cannot afford these kinds of things and so they don’t get to benefit from all the great technology which is unfortunate.

  17. I personally don’t believe in pairing young children with tech. I feel it interrupts more in depth brain development. While they “learn” what is in front of them, it is more passive, rather than involving critical thinking in a way that would allow for more intense thought within the brain. Some will argue “they are thinking”. Not in the same way. When you are at the computer, you are not using your brain quite in the same way as if you were sitting in a quiet non-distracted place trying to “work-out” something. I am sure with some dad’s who are not sure how to play at toddler games or feel embarrassed with toddler toys, tech has become an interactive substitute. Still not the same learning and interactive bonding from more traditional play and communication. You are teaching the kid to focus more on the tech rather than the human relationship. That is the problem with tech. It interferes with developing human to human qualities/relationships necessary for the care, compassion, and healthy interaction of people withing society.

  18. Communication is key! Children nowadays will have to be technologically advanced to excel and compete in the future for jobs and livelihood! Way to go, technomom!

  19. I don’t think children and technology should go together. Seeing how the obesity rates are going higher than every, the number of kids not getting their daily exercise.. I don’t think so.

  20. Technology can be a great tool as long as it is supervised and used to further educate. We live in a world full of technology, and it’s great for kids to learn to use it properly and take advantage of those tools.

  21. I was really strict about this when my twins were younger. Now that they are five, it’s hard. As much as I tried to minimize the amount of exposure, they are so drawn to it. A careful balance I think.

  22. So much to think about. I do agree that technology can can give kids an upper hand over children not introduced to it. With technology growing and changing so rapidly, I’d say the earlier the better. Kids going into school now are almost expected to know how to use all the gadgets. But I also believe in moderation. I would prefer my children spend the majority of their home time playing outside or if inside, using their imaginations and being creative. But I don’t think introducing it to them at a young age is detrimental.

  23. Technology can be a great tool for learning. as long as toddlers and kids have time away from the screens i think technology is a great tool.

  24. Technology helps make our kids smarter but it also make them lazy. They want the computer to do a spell check for them instead of looking it up in a dictionary. Also, it is hard to get my kids to go outside and play. No exercise except for their fingers. lol

  25. My 27 month old daughter has learned sooo much on my iPhone 4. From counting to colors, religion, shapes and sizes. She still runs and plays and is very happy and healthy!

  26. I am always amazed at what my five year old niece can do on the computer or IPad. She has to teach me how to do things on the I-Pad. I am glad that my sister and her family limits her on how long she is on either one of them. Children don’t need to have them or the tv rule their lives. Children need a balance between technology and play/exercise.

  27. My kids have been playing with electronics since they can hold one. The games are always educational in nature and there are a few fun one’s too. I haven’t really heard anyone bash games or playing with electronics lately seems like most of the parents I know are all for it. things are changing in the direction of electronics being favorable especially now that most of the school in our area have them and use them to teach our children

  28. We embrace technology! Like you and other moms have said, it’s all about the content. Educational content is wonderful. My daughter is leaps and bounds ahead of other children her age and I credit so much of it to technology and also to ourselves. We don’t just sit her in front of our iPad and let her play games. We sit with her to help, encourage and play along too. We want her to love learning and we want it to be fun!

  29. Technology is great to keep our children up to date on new ideas and learning. But I still believe that children should be taught the “old school” way of learning also. It seems that children are behind in those ideas.

  30. This is a great article. Kids need all the help they can get. Kids in other countries are usually bilingual or more and american kids can only speak one language. We would be so much more versatile and successful if we knew other languages and this needs to be done early. Other programs like ones to learn how to play music are really important at an early age and increase iQ overall. Let the kids learn as much as they want on their own and they will be super stars when they grow up!

  31. I think educational technology has come so far and it can be the perfect thing for kiddos to get extra learning – without them really even knowing it.

  32. I completely agree. I use to watch children and I have 3 of my own. My children have watched educational tv and used electronics from an early age also. I would have mothers come into where I worked and would tell me that their child couldn’t watch tv or play with the electronic games and toys(not just tv, video games, or computers but any toy with batteries.). I asked if it was for a religious reason and she would just tell me no that all the electronic games and toys rot kids brains. My child is in HS now and is taking college classes so if his brain was suppose to rot from his exposure to them no one told his brain. Her son btw had to repeat pre-k for not knowing his letters and numbers by the end of the yr.
    I would like to add that to much and to much to soon can be a bad thing but the use of them can only enhance their lives.

  33. Great article. My daughter has been a wiz on my ipod touch since she was younger then 2. It’s amazing to me what she can do compared to what I was doing at 2 years old. But I also believe in balance. My daughter also loves to play outside and has a great imagination, which is also helpful in learning.

  34. My husband and I have this argument constantly. He doesnt want the kids faces stuck in the screens but I feel like on car rides and in the stroller when they would normally get fussy why not give them an educational app on the iPhone and save everyone a lot of frustration. I am not giving them angry birds I am giving them alphabet and numbers games.

  35. Times have changed and I agree we need to evolve and embrace technology for its educational elements. Its not a babysitter but a way to supplement learning.

  36. Technology isn’t going anywhere. I want it ot be natural for my kids so they don’t fear it but embrase it! I want to do everything I can to keep them competitive for their futures :) My 4 year old will allow me to type guinea pig tricks into youtube.com and he knows to click one, watch it and hit the back arrow to view other ones. My 10 year old is pretty much as efficient as I am, however I type much much faster (self taught on typingtest.com). Computers and techy cells are here to stay.

  37. I agree – in moderation technology can be fine. But too many parents are using it as a babysitter, and that is ruining their relationship with their child.

  38. Technology does have a great impact on our kids, and making sure the content is appropriate is our job as parents. The only downside is that smarter kids who can articulate their feelings and thoughts make it harder for us parents to win an argument!

  39. Toddlers don’t need to have technology, and if they do, it should be used in an educational way. However, when I have children, I’ll just stick to books. Technology is making it so no one reads real BOOKS anymore and one day libraries aren’t even going to exist. I also didn’t even get my first cellphone until I was 15. It baffles me when I see 8 year olds with a cellphone, I can understand if it’s used for emergencies such as to call parents or the police but not if it’s used for other reasons. Kids need to be imaginative, creative, ACTIVE. Not stuck in the house allday using their iPads, computers, and video games. It totally is about moderation.

  40. A little is OK I suppose, but kids should mostly play with blocks, and kids, and pets and run around outside getting dirty and making a ton of noise.

  41. I think having kids who are up to date with technology is so important. It is giving them the advantages they need in today’s world. When I was in high school, we didn’t even use computers. Now my son’s books are on an iPad in middle school. We must make sure that are children are adequately prepared and that means exposing them to the technology that is relevant at early ages.

  42. I honestly believe we need to screen out what our kids use. I’d like them to be tech savvy bbut not at the cost of missing out on the beauties of childhood

  43. YES! I am always amazed by my daughter’s ability to truly learn something from technology. Just today she was telling me about how counting 2 by 2 makes it go quicker. Where did she learn yo count by 2s? LeapFrog DVD!

  44. I didn’t expose my kids to technology when they were tiny. I wanted them to embrace playing with blocks and dolls and enjoying the outdoors without the distraction of electronic gadgets. Now that they are older, they have technology and enjoy it as much as I do.

  45. I guess I disagree. Although technology is important, children need a different stimulation. Outdoors time, time with mom and dad, cultural time etc. 2 hrs a day for a 2 year old? Nah.

  46. I agree, my kids have been using technology since they were 2, at least. Most of the apps I allow them to use combine learning with many senses – which I think helps kids learn more. They can see, hear, and touch using a phone or tablet and most of the time they dont even realize they’re ‘learning’. I think with everything, you have to use technology with moderation, but in our day and age, it’s not the evil it once was.