MADISON (WKOW) -- Technology changes every day and kids younger and younger are using it. In fact, there are products you can buy so your 6 month old can use a tablet or a smartphone.
Tablets like the LeapPad first came out more than 10 years ago, but those are marketed for kids older than 3 years. Now there are tablets and smartphone cases so babies can use apps. They're made for children 6 months old, and sometimes younger.
Since doctors have long said children under two shouldn't get any screen time at all, we wondered if parents should let their children use them. Madison pediatrician Dr. Kristin Millin says, "I've seen the cases quite a bit in the office here. It's become a very popular trend especially this past Christmas. I've seen two-year-olds with a very nice iPad seated on their lap."
Dr. Millin says that's the magic age: two. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for children under two. That includes TVs and computers, and now more recently tablets and smartphones.
But it's been almost 15 years since the AAP's original recommendation and new research shows 90-percent of parents are letting kids under two use electronic media anyway. So we asked them if it's okay now. AAP spokeswoman Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe says yes, but - "It's still as limited as you can go, but we recognize that parents need to live lives. You've got something on the stove, the phone rings, you need to keep her safe, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact that's a good use for that because you need to know where she is."
Dr. O'Keeffe says in those situations choose something educational like an app from Sesame Street; something that teaches the alphabet, numbers or how to read.
For children older than two, make sure you have parental controls on to monitor what they can use. And remember to keep their screen time limited. Jen Engel has a young daughter, Evie, who's two years old. Jen lets her use her Kindle during their commute in the morning and at night, but that's about it. "I try not to depend on it. It's really easy to get addicted to it as a parent because it is such a good entertainment item. She could just sit like these for hours and play the games if I let her."
And Jen's right. That's something you should not do, doctors say. The best way for young children to learn is from you, not your tablet. Doctors mostly worry learning only from a screen could cause problems with a very young child's development cognitively and socially. Right now, there aren't any good studies to back up that idea so doctors rely on what they see in the older kids. Dr. O'Keeffe says, "Kids who don't have time to unplug will have trouble developing important skills socially, important skills cognitively, in terms of memory, speech."
Dr. Millin adds it's important for kids to get up and get out. "It's great to have an application about bird sounds, but if you never go out for a hike or out to the arboretum to listen for birds, or use binoculars, then your child isn't learning all the skills they need in order to develop in a way we want them to."
Many children are using tablets now in classrooms, including in Madison and other southern Wisconsin school districts. Teachers we talked to say it's actually helped children be more social with each other. Doctors aren't saying older children shouldn't use tablets to learn, only that they should take time to unplug too.