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Toddlers and Technology: The screen time debate - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Toddlers and Technology: The screen time debate

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BILLINGS - Since the introduction of television, parents have been regulating screen time.

Around the 1990's, the popularity of home computers grew, and now there's tablets and smartphones. That's where Generation Alpha comes in, known as the generation born with an iPad in its hand.

"Things like painting and coloring and cutting and dancing and singing and listening to music and climbing and throwing balls, and kicking balls. That's the stuff kids need to be doing," said Dr. Natalie Bohlmann, associate professor of educational theory and practice at Montana State University Billings. 

Bohlmann sees some parents using smart devices in ways that aren't exactly beneficial to toddlers. "If we get into the realm of just using it to occupy our time, or to entertain, especially with kids, that's not the best use of it," Bohlmann said. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies and toddlers younger than 18 months stay away from screen time. For toddlers 2 and older, they should only be allowed one hour a day.

But the reality is some parents rely on screen time to help them juggle housework and daily responsibilities. 

A recent survey by the parenting website BabyCenter.com found that two in three babies and four in five toddlers have some form of screen time. Overall, as many as one in five watch more than three hours a day.

Pediatricians are seeing some damaging effects on vision, sleep, weight, fine motor skills and mental health. 

"Especially if screens are used as the only form of comfort. They might not be able to learn how to emotionally self-regulate, or cope on their own," said Dr. Patricia Notario, a pediatrician at Billings Clinic. 

With the advancement of technology, parents might be putting too much faith into screen time. 

"We like to think that we have these apps that can teach these skills to kids, so if we're handing them this device and they're learning their colors or something, then this is a good thing. The reality is that if we're interacting with colors and talking about them, they're also going to learn their colors and that's probably a better way to do it," Bohlmann said. 

If used the right way, screen time could be a good thing. 

"How do we use this as a tool to help us to be creative, to make connections, to learn information. Used in that way, they're a really good thing. Used just for entertainment or to occupy, probably not," Bohlmann said. 

High-quality programming is another option. 

"So, not overly distracting from the real world. Something that would encourage what they call dual participation, where a parent or an older sibling could engage with the app and the child and their surrounding environment," Notario said. 

When it comes to the growing mind of a toddler, back to basics is best. 

"I think that we have to remember that even though technology has its place, both in our classrooms and in our world, that it can never replace good, high-quality interactions between teachers and children, or parents and children," Bohlmann said. 

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