Go to any restaurant during any given weekend, and you'll see the same thing over and over again – parents handing over their smartphones to their kids to play with.
Children as young as 1 have been documented playing with both smartphones and tablets, and the current parenting trend is that doing so can help them start learning sooner.
While this is up for debate, it is clear that children learn how to interact with the devices quickly. App makers are banking on this, and are marketing to parents to help their children get a head start on learning. If you search iTunes, you'll find more than 800 apps specifically marketed to children under the age of 3. Toys R Us sells the iPad. A town in Maine just spent $200,000 on iPads for the entire incoming kindergarten class.
But does technology make kids smarter?
While experts do agree that it's okay for toddlers to spend some time playing educational games on tablets for short amounts of time, they recommend that children under the age of 2 don't get any screen time. Experts have conducted studies on young children that showed that although they could manipulate letters around on a tablet in the correct manner, when presented with flash cards bearing the same letters or colors, the children didn't understand and couldn't identify the items.
But can we keep our kids away from technology – and is it fair to expect them to not want to explore it?
Children learn much of their behavior from the adults around them. If the adults in their lives are constantly on smartphones or tablets, children will also want to use them. Which means they can abuse them as well. There's a documented case where a 3-year-old child spent hundreds on a car on an Internet auction site, using his mom's computer. Who knows what information a child could innocently give away?
Make sure your devices are locked with a password, so that your child cannot use them without permission. Your child won't be as careful as you are to protect your sensitive information from identity thieves. It's all up to you.