Seattle Doctor Says Babies Should Use Tablets

SEATTLE -- Doctors have long said children under 2 years old shouldn't have any screen time. Now, a leading pediatric researcher who's been a strong voice against babies watching TV has a new recommendation. He says young children can, and should play with touch screen computers.

We talked to parents in Seattle about the change. Trish Heinrich says her 14-month-old son Conley would love to get his hands on her iPad, but she keeps it off limits.

"It's too expensive a piece of equipment to let him play with it, in my opinion," she said. "And I also think he's just too young for iPad games. I don't really see the benefit of letting him push a bunch of stuff on the iPad."

Despite a host of games and apps geared towards young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to agree. The AAP's media statement says children under two shouldn't be in front of TV or computer screens. Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children's Research Institute helped craft those guidelines. He says the last time the statement was updated, iPads and other touch screen devices were just coming out. He's out with a new opinion that touch screens don't hurt, and they might even help young children.

"So I'm offering what I consider to be my best scientific and theoretical recommendation," Dr. Chirstakis said. "It's what I would recommend as a pediatrician and it's what I would do if I were the parent of a young child today."

That recommendation is to allow children four months and older to play on a touch screen like a Surface or iPad for up to an hour a day. He says a tablet computer game is more like an interactive toy where babies learn cause and effect and get the reward of pressing a button and making something happen. He describes it as the rewarding feeling of "I did it!"

It's welcome news for parents who occasionally hand over a tablet or smart phone. Margaret Mitchell is the mother of 16-month-old Grayson. "If she needs a little distraction from time to time or there's a little downtime, she can play with it," Mitchell said. "Sometimes I feel a little guilty, for sure."

Dr. Christakis says parents no longer need to feel that guilt as long as they don't go overboard.

"They shouldn't spend more than 10% of their time with any single activity," Dr. Christakis said. "There's so much else that's really important to their development. Singing, reading, playing, interacting with adults, caregivers. The iPad is no substitute for any of those things."

He's currently leading research about the potential risks and benefits of babies and touch screens, but he says results are years away. He wants parents of today to know they can relax when it comes to educational apps.

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