Toddlers and Touch Screens: Tips and Advice

Baby holding smart phone on back

Imagine yourself standing in line at the grocery store after a long day with a fussy 2-year-old. All you want to do is get through the checkout and back home to make dinner, but all your ornery toddler wants is to play that one game with the bright colors and shapes on your smartphone.

What do you do?

It’s easy to relent and hand over your phone. You know it’ll be effective – your little one loves that thing – and it’s so easy (your phone is probably in your hand or pocket already). But is it the right thing to do?

It’s best to limit early childhood screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 18 months old or younger not use any media devices whatsoever. The only exception to this rule is use for video-chatting with family.

For those parents who want to begin introducing screen time early, the AAP suggests at least making sure the content is high-quality. Additionally, the AAP recommends that parents watch or use the device with their little one and interact with both the child and the medium so baby or toddler can gain a greater understanding of what it is they’re watching or doing.

It's generally a good idea to limit smart device use among young children.Toddlers tend to love touch screens, but it’s best to limit their exposure to mobile devices early on.

For children ages 2-5 years old, an hour of screen time per day is acceptable, the AAP explained. Still, it’s a good idea to use the media along with the child to facilitate deeper understanding. Kids older than this may begin using media more frequently, though it’s beneficial to set hard limits, such as no screens at the dinner table or during family time. Further, it’s critical that screen time is not replacing sleep time, meal time or play time.

One recent study found a correlation between minutes per day on a mobile device and delayed speech development, CNN reported. The topic has only briefly been studied, and researchers note that deeper exploration is necessary to truly understanding the effects screen time has on young minds. But the study, which spanned 900 children, found that for every 30 minutes per day using a screen, there was a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay (using sounds and words).

Screen limits in an ultra-connected world

While notions of a tech-free toddler might sound nice, to the busy parent, they might also seem unrealistic. The truth is, screens will always be around your little one. You likely use them on a regular basis to communicate with your spouse, family, co-workers, friends, your favorite stores, your bank and the list goes on.

Your child learns from you: Screens aren’t just OK; they’re essential. And there will be times when the simplest move really is to hand your fussy little guy your smartphone with his favorite game preloaded.

So, when that time comes, here are a few tips:

  • Interact with your toddler while playing on the device whenever possible.
  • Take note of when you’re giving him the device so you know when to take it back or turn it off.
  • Choose several high-quality, educational apps or videos to load.

Not sure which selections in the App or Google Play Store are best? Parents Magazine suggested giving these apps for toddlers a try:

Toddler Flashcards

This app is exactly what it sounds like: flashcards for basic words like animals, foods or letters for your child to learn. This is especially handy for bilingual children, as the settings can be swapped between 13 different languages.

Quizzing Toddler Preschool

This interactive app will help your child learn her shapes, colors, letters and numbers.

Duckie Deck Collection

This app has six games that promote imaginative thinking, problem-solving and healthy habits.

Limiting screen time is generally a good idea for young ones, but sometimes this is easier said than done. However, making smart choices about when and how to let your children use mobile devices can encourage a healthier relationship between your little one and technology.