May 31, 2011 -- There will be no world according to Sesame Street or Baby Einstein for Leelee Sobieski's 17-month-old toddler. The actress told People magazine on Monday that she wants her daughter Lewi to grow up the old-fashioned way, without the distraction of television, computers and iPad "finger slides."
"I don't want her to not be able to talk with her friends about what's going on, but I really want to encourage the reading and the playing," she explained to People. "A lot of kids now in New York I see can open an iPhone before they can even walk practically. [They do] the finger slide."
Sobieski noted that she wants Lewi to be a part of modern times, but the actress also hopes to foster a childhood without the distraction of screens and the impersonal use of technology.
While gadgets seem to have replaced the simple things in life, most experts agree that young childrens' exposure to technology should be limited .
Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of "Baby 411" book series, applauded Sobieski for following the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and those over 2 have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day.
Brown said the main concern is that infants and young toddlers need time to play with the guidance of caretakers and independently.
"They learn problem solving, creativity, communication and social skills by interacting with others and having time to play on their own," said Brown. "Young children learn much more with a live presentation. Things get lost in translation on the screen."
Experts said that screen time, even with programs and DVDs that claim to be educational for children, do not have substantial evidence of educational merits in children under 2 years old.
Dr. Rahil Briggs, assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, noted that research consistently shows that, no matter what technological program, the lesson is more effective when used "live" with parents and caregivers.
There are two reasons these programs may negatively impact a young child's development, Briggs said.
"One is that such viewing comes at the expense of social interaction and play, and the other is that constant exposure to the bright lights, images that change every second may even be affecting the child's brain development, such that he or she comes to expect this level of input, and is bored by anything less," said Briggs.
In effect, Briggs said too much screen time in early years of development may be priming children for attention problems later on in life.
But other experts noted that modern gadgets can promote education and closeness between parents and children, as long as they're used in appropriate ways.
"Technology now offers something a parent never had before," said Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., John M. Musser professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University. "Almost all knowledge is on the Web."
Kazdin said that technology offers an opportunity for parents to be closely involved with their child's learning experience by listening to music together, reading stories and discovering new interests.
"It brings things to a child that we never could before," continued Kazdin. "For example, in an instant, we can look at the animals on the Serengeti—we can go there in these web cams and pictures, and a child would learn and be enthralled by the colors and the animals."
Technology Can Act as Learning Tool
In a few clicks, Kazdin said, parents can use technology as a real educational tool for their children.
"Whatever flavor parents would like to pass on, whether it's art or animals or music, it's there and waiting for you," said Kazdin.
But even while advocating technology's benefits, experts noted that it is important to limit a child's unsupervised time in front of the computer or television. Unsupervised screen time has potential to increase associations with violent video games and cyber bullying, Kazdin said.
While some experts noted that modern technology is becoming a base for modern culture, Briggs explained that, even if parents decide to limit gadget use, children tend to be "brilliant early adapters."
"They're sure to catch on very quickly," said Briggs. "I would hope we're more concerned with healthy development and intact social emotional and interpersonal skills than with keeping up with the (technological) times."
"As Benjamin Franklin would say--everything in moderation," said Brown. "The key is that parents need to set healthy limits for their kids, and media is no exception."