Children and technology: Experts say there are guidelines for screen time

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ocal child development experts says there should be guidelines for screen time to keep our kids healthy. (KFSN)

Smartphones and tablets have become an integral part of our lives. Even kids have smartphones and tablets at home and schools have integrated the technology into the curriculum.

Though there is no hard and fast data yet on the impact of smart technology, local child development experts said there are specific guidelines for screen time.

Many young children-- even babies-- have already mastered the smartphone and the tablet. They know how to swipe, even move pictures or change apps with just one tap of the screen.

Dr. Linda Copeland, a developmental behavioral pediatric specialist at Fresno's UCSF, said very young children need to have a hands-on world with lots of toys and objects they can pick up and manipulate. Objects to throw, squeeze, and roll.

Dr. Copeland said, "When you're talking about the smart technology-- whether it's an iPad or smartphone-- there's really just a very simple fine motor movement like this to navigate, but there's really not a lot of other object manipulation."

Too much exposure to smartphones and tablets at an early age can actually delay fine motor skills because young children aren't using their hands and fingers enough.

According to Dr. Copeland, there is no good evidence that smart technology really enhances the very young child's learning. She said, there's no need for any kind of screen time under the age of two.

But many exhausted parents are either tempted to or do, give toddlers a phone or tablet to keep them quiet and entertained.

Jodie Weaver of Clovis has three children under the age of five. Recently when she was sick with the flu she said she put her girls in front of the TV and let them play on her phone.

"They just got really, I don't know, really whiney I noticed. It seemed like they lost their manners really quickly. So I picked up on it and I turned it off. I've had a schedule since then."

The Weavers have a play room at home and take the kids to the park as much as possible. Jodie still uses smart technology, but only educational apps that she can play with her girls.

According to a Northwestern University study of more than 2,300 parents, 17-percent report being very or somewhat likely to give a mobile device to their kids under two when they need to get things done.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics said children under the age of two should have no interaction with phones, tablets, or TVs.

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At Terrific Two's in Fresno, the two and three-year-olds have mastered the tablet. With the help of their teachers, they trace letters and shapes.

At Terrific Two's in Fresno, the two and three-year-olds have mastered the tablet. With the help of their teachers, they trace letters and shapes.

Katie Anooshian runs Terrific Two's, she said, "We use tablets with a tactile screen so you can feel it. There's bumps on it. So not only are they feeling what they're doing, they're hearing what they're doing. And they're seeing the final results."

The two and three-year-olds play educational games on tablets about 15 minutes a day. The rest of their morning is dedicated to interactive play. Anooshian believes the combination of activities helps the toddlers learn.

At the Blanton house in Clovis, screen time is allowed, but limited. Katie and Clay's three boys each have their own tablets and they play video games. But the tablets have parental controls.

Clay explains, "You can actually say how much screen time. Whether it's reading, whether it's games, whether it's the internet, you can say, 'you can't play any games until you do a half an hour of reading.' Or you can do time out so you can't do an hour or more of any app per day."

Katie adds, "Watching TV is no imagination or no creativity. At least playing games, not all of them, they have to use their mind and do different things. Sometimes it's a musical app, sometimes it's a complete mind numbing app."

Longtime Fresno psychologist Susan Napolitano believes phones and tablets remove kids from human interaction.

She warns, "By the time we understand the impact of this technology if the impact is negative, it's going to be too late."

She fears kids who spend too much time wrapped up in apps will find the real world too slow and less rewarding.

Napolitano explains, "So if I wanna go get my bike, I gotta get up, I gotta walk outside, I gotta ask permission. I have so many steps between me and the thing I want in the outside world. In the virtual world, the minute I want something, it's pretty much right there."

Napolitano said overuse of smartphones and tablets teaches instant gratification. Dr. Copeland said overuse of smart technology can actually lead to addiction.

"There's visual stimulation, and sound stimulation and that immediate reinforcement triggers pleasure centers, and it's not normal in life that you get instant reinforcement for every little thing that you do."

The doctor said smart technology on phones and tablets can actually be beneficial-- it's the overuse that concerns her.

For parents wondering what to do, here is the recommendation: two hours a day should be the maximum for kids three to 18. For younger kids, interacting with your child while they use a tablet or phone is essential.

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