Special Segment: Techno Tots

November 7, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Toddlers, even infants, navigate touch screens, some before they can talk.

"I'd be bold enough to say that this digital revolution is on par with the printing press, that in fact we are creating a new literacy," said Chip Donohue, Erikson Institute.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Carina loves toys and make believe. But she is also a techno tot. She is captivated by touch screens and adept at using them.

"I am just amazed. She is able to go through the apps and go through the photos. She's just two and a half and she enjoys it," said Lisa Difiori, Carina's mom.

New research shows 40 percent of all 2 to 4-year-olds and 10 percent of babies under the age of 1 have used touch screen technology.

"What I think is going to happen is we are going to see growth and development change for children and their ability to use current technology and future technology will be far different than anything we could ever conceive," said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child psychology, Rush Unversity Medical Center.

At Catherine Cook School on Chicago's North Side, there are all the things you would expect to find in a classroom for three year olds. There are also iPads -- one reason Jenny Kernan chose this school for her son Connor.

"He's learned to write his upper case letters on the iPad and he shares with his friends, they play games together and interact together on the iPad," said Kernan.

And if you don't know how to use a touch screen, just ask a 3-year-old.

Little kids don't know this is cutting edge technology. To them, it is simply fun.

"I write letters and play shapes. I write letters and make shapes," said Dominique Beard-Leroy, 3, when asked what he does on his iPad.

"It's going to give him the skills he's going to need later on. So if he's got this right now, it's one less thing he's going to have to worry about when he's in middle school because he'll already have this behind him," said Carla Beard-Leroy, Dominique's mom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says limited screen time for 2 to 4-year-olds can be enriching if there is interaction with an adult. The recommendation is no screen time for children under the age of 2.

"We don't want electronic media to be a hindrance to normal development," said Dr. Anita Chandra, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Experts say the key is balance. Kids should do the things they've always done and spend time with new technology but in limited, well-supervised amounts.

"I think it is an exciting place to be, an exciting time to be thinking about technology and young children and education and parenting, but we don't want to let this thing go past us without some good thought about it," said Donohue.

Touch screen phones have been around only three years, iPads just a year and a half. So it's not surprising there are a lot of questions about what these tools mean for children. Unfortunately, firm answers backed up by real research will likely come after today's technology is already obsolete.

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