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Toddlers and technology

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Technology is an important part of our culture and while the computers get smaller, so too do the users. Some studies show one in four toddlers have used a smartphone. But could playing with technology at such a young age lead to problems down the road?

"He's really up-to-date with a lot of the technology, probably more so than a lot of the seniors out there," said Stephanie Valdez, a mother of two, including 2-year-old Joaquin.

Joaquin knows his way around everything from the iPad to the DVR. The world has changed and Valdez said it's beneficial. "I've definitely gotten into a lot of the preschool helping games, including the counting, math - there (are) a lot of great tools out there," Valdez said.

Valdez added that new technology is a great supplement to what she's already trying to teach Joaquin and that he constantly surprises her with his retention.

"It's really neat to see him grasp things and connect it to our world. Not just with the iPad, but connect it to other things like, we're going to the doctor, (and he'll think), oh, the doctor makes us feel better."

Kimberly Bishop has six kids, including 5-year-old Cooper and 3-year-old Brooke, who Bishop said is better at some apps than she is.

Bishop's degree is in early childhood education and she's seen technology change over the years, and with it, the learning process.

"I'm not talking (using it for everything) because of course you have to have the reciprocity of language and you're not going to interact and talk with computer, but those skills they need, and the constant repetition, it's a great tool," Bishop said.

Bishop loves the app Handwriting Without Tears, which she said gives her youngest child a leg-up when it comes to reading and writing.

"It gives her enough feedback and gives her enough repetition that she can pick it up, and she's already reading," Bishop said.

UNLV sociology professor Simon Gottschalk studies our culture and says a lot of research is under way to measure the effects technology has on toddlers. He said there are definitely benefits.

"The use of computers among toddlers is going to increase eye-hand coordination and increase understanding of cause and effect," he said.

However, Gottschalk warns 2-D technology strips away the outside world and doesn't engage all of the senses, which is crucial for development.

"The sense of smell, the sense of taste, the sense of touch, balance - they are not at all stimulated," Gottschalk said.

Gottschalk also worries we may be raising an impatient society. There is no delayed gratification with the online world because everything is instant. Real life relationships don't work like that.

"Children may be taught to expect everyday life will unfold in speed of the blink of an eye, but it won't, and that may cause problems," Gottschalk said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages no television for children under 2 years old and less than two hours a day for kids older than that. So far there is no science regarding smart devices but some pediatricians warn the radiation emitted from the technology could be dangerous.

"Some studies suggest there could be increased risk of brain cancer... other studies refute that, but I'd be very cautious in exposing children to those types of radiation at a very young age," Dr. Harold Naiman with HealthCare Partners said.

For now, pediatricians suggest limiting total exposure to no more than two hours a day, including television and smart devices.

And with everything, it all comes down to parental guidance and balance.

"I'm the one who's controlling how long he spends with it, how long he spends in front of TV, how long he spends playing with his toys, making sure he gets fine motor skills. Making sure he's getting exercise," Valdez said.

Bishop agreed, "She still has to touch things, feel things and it's not just the 2-D world. It's another component she can have in her life and it's a win for all of us."

Both Bishop and Valdez limit their kids using tablets to about half an hour each day.

They also say it's important to research the apps your kids use and the reviews can help, especially those from educators.

Even though it's a multi-million dollar industry, the apps are fairly inexpensive; $4 is the most Valdez and Bishop have paid.

You should make sure you enable parental controls as well, which is especially important when it comes to Netflix or YouTube.

While there is plenty of research on this topic under way, by the time we reach any kind of understanding on the long term effects, the technology may have changed again, Gottschalk said.

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