When Sarah Caron went to her daughter Paige's preschool's open house, she expected to see Play-Doh, building blocks, and dolls. But iPads? Although she was surprised to find the tablet was part of the school's curriculum, she knew that her daughter wouldn't have trouble using one. At home, Paige had already mastered her dad's iPad. "She quickly learned how to open apps, turn pages in books, and even navigate her way to the Dr. Seuss stories in the App Store, which she would try to convince my husband to download for her," says Caron, of Newtown, Connecticut.
These days, parents have more to monitor than just TV-watching; a recent study found that 27 percent of all screen time for kids 8 and younger is spent with digital media. Whether in school or at home, preschoolers are surrounded by new forms of technology -- and they're getting hooked. But we all know too much screen time can be unhealthy. It's been linked to obesity and sleep problems, and the more your child logs on, the less time he'll have for unstructured play, which is critical for building creativity and problem-solving skills. Here's how to introduce technology without turning him into a pint-size couch potato.
Supervise His Surfing
Experts agree that the best way to teach your child about how to use technology is to log on with him. "Just as you sit down with your child to read a story or make a craft, be present when your child is using your gadgets," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., author of Toddler 411. Get involved by asking questions about what's going on in the game; if he's flipping through pages of an e-book on your Kindle, read along with him. You'll not only encourage him to learn more, but your involvement can help avoid mindless clicking trances and make him think about what's happening on the screen.
Of course, there will be times when you can't be over his shoulder. To make sure your child doesn't open an app that his older brother downloaded or click to an in-appropriate YouTube video, set up security locking features on all of your devices, which will allow your kid to enter only child-friendly apps and sites.