Toddlers and Tablets: Way of the Future?

PHOTO: 13-month-old Leo Wolfson interacts with his iPad
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Just 10 days out of the womb, Alex's mother, Beth Lehman-Brooks of Seattle, propped him up in front of an iPad for what she hoped was a good reason.

"I guess I didn't think it was going to hurt," Beth Lehman-Brooks, told ABC News. "So why not give it a try, and he seemed to like it."

A quick search on YouTube will reveal plenty of proud parents sharing their infant's touch-screen skills.

But some are wondering if this embracement of tablets could help spawn a generation of babies addicted to technology.

For the diapered set, tapping and swiping is like second nature. Urvashi Sen of New York City claims her 11-month-old son Ishaan could swipe before he was 9 months old.

"Before that I'd say, probably when he was 6 or 7 months old," Sen said.

Sen, a member of the group Upper West Side Moms, says she feels conflicted about handing over the technology to her children. Suzy Wolfson, another member, also expressed concerns about her 13-month-old son Leo's interaction with tablets.

"I feel guilty when he's sitting there with it," Wolfson said. "But at the same time, I know I'm going to get him to eat dinner if I give him the iPad. I do think there is real learning and value."

A survey by Northwestern's School of Communication of 2,300 parents of children aged to 8-years-old found that 37 percent of parents still report they are likely to use their tablet or smartphone to entertain their kids, despite the fact that 54 percent worry their children's use of mobile devices had a negative impact on their physical activity. Interestingly, only 10 percent of American parents turned to mobile devices to educate their kids.

Their ambivalence is only magnified when their kids seem magnetically attracted to the devices.

ABC News decided to do a kind of test to see if babies would choose their mom or the iPad, and the toddlers seemed to really dig those touch screens.

Time after time, these infants exhibited a seemingly irresistible pull to their digital toys. When Leo was given the choice between his mother, Suzy, and their iPad, he went straight to the tablet.

Manufacturers have taken notice.

Amazon – makers of the Kindle Fire – launched applications like Kindle FreeTime. Designed for parents, the application gives them easy-to-use tools to personalize their children's experience, and enables them to set a limit on the time their kids spend watching videos and playing games while making reading time unlimited.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is silent on the issue of tablets. But for children 2 and under, their official recommendation is no "passive screen time." Not even for Sesame Street. Instead, they encourage families to have unstructured play and talk time because they believe those approaches help children learn while supporting development.

"That's a time when these young kids need to be developing language skills and learning to recognize a facial expression, not scanning the Internet on an iPad," said Gary Small, author of iBrain and professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

There are no studies that look at the effects of tablets on babies because the technology is too new. But other studies on older children have shown that they can learn efficiently from interactive media.

In a report published in March by the Millennium Cohort Study, researchers claim that toddlers can learn efficiently from interactive media, such as age-appropriate video games. Child development experts say the key is not to use the tablet as an electronic babysitter, but as a teaching tool, and to interact with your child as they use the devices.

Now 1-year-old, Alex Brooks is still transfixed by the iPad. It's a toy he's not growing out of any time soon.

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