Toddlers & Tech: Are All Screens Created Equal?

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He's only 20 months old, but Daniela Suleiman Pottruck's son Max already knows the difference between a real cell phone and a fake one.

Give him a toy cell phone (or even an older, disconnected phone) and, within minutes, he'll drop it and move on to something else, his mother said. But give him a real BlackBerry or cell phone, and he'll mimic his parents talking until they take it away.

"Anything that has a button on it, he'll go for," Pottruck said.

As consumer technology becomes increasingly easy-to-use, engaging and affordable, pediatricians urge parents to resist their young children's cries for new digital toys.

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For television, computers, cell phones, smartphones, tablets and more, the message remains the same: "screen time" should be kept to a minimum. For kids under 2 years old, they say screen time should be off limits altogether.

But with the rise of touchscreen devices, like Apple's iPhone and iPad, other child technology experts and parents argue something else: Not all screens are created equal.

Pediatricians: Children Under Two Should Avoid Screen Time

Not only can using iPhone and iPad applications be developmentally appropriate for young kids, they might actually help them learn, they say.

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Pottruck said Max's interest extends far beyond the cell phone. Apple's iPad, with its brightly-colored, interactive applications can hold his attention for long periods of time. And, copying his parents at the computer, he's even been able to bang away at a Mac keyboard to change songs on iTunes, she said.

But despite Max's excitement about the new technology, Pottruck said, she and her husband are careful about limiting his screen time.

"He doesn't really have a lot of exposure. ... I definitely want to wait until he's 2 to get more screen time," she said. "I know that eventually there's going to be no stopping him. I'd rather he play with blocks and do the old fashioned thing for now."

Pottruck said she's stricter than her friends when it comes to toddlers and technology, but, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, she's right on track.

Studies: Children Spend About 7 Hours in Front of Screen

"There is absolutely no hurry to rush kids into technology, either old or new. And the AAP recommends avoiding screen time for babies under the age of 2," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a member of the AAP's council on communication and media and a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

"In terms of computer use and television and movies, I think parents need to be very cautious over the age of 2," he said. "There's every reason to believe that kids should be engaging in creative active play, not passive viewing, when they're very young."

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours a day in front of a screen, but Strasburger said that number should be brought down to no more than 2 hours a day, and for toddlers under 2, it should be zero.

"There are now half a dozen studies showing that babies exposed to screens may suffer from language delays," he said. "There has never been a study showing that it does any good."

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