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Avoiding the Techno-Tots Trap of Too Much Screen Time

Toddler with iPad

Having watched Mom do it countless times, a 2-year-old taps on an app on her Mom's cell phone and purposely swipes her finger, again and again, across the screen.

A 3-year-old sits in front of a laptop computer, completely mesmerized by the bouncing, hopping creatures of the colorful video game he is "playing."

A 4-year-old refuses to put away her children's E-book when Dad calls her to dinner.

While technology might provide young children with vivid and exciting experiences, it's not always so good at enabling them to be creative or get the daily physical exercise they need. In fact, when children get too immersed in screen time on cell phones or computers, they can begin to shut out the important "kid" activities that help them grow and develop.

Here are a few parenting tips for how you can redirect your toddler away from overusing technology and toward fun and mentally stimulating activities that can teach valuable lessons:

Writing notes by hand.
This activity can strengthen your toddler's motor skills and thought processes. For example, holding a crayon or a pencil requires coordination and the use of muscles that are different from those needed to push a key on a keypad. A handwritten note or letter also requires patience, a virtue in short supply in today's instant-everything world.

Reading all about it.
E-books are great tools for helping children improve their reading skills without adult supervision. However, there is something special about a parent and child reading stories together. A mom's facial expressions or a father's special sound effects add a quality that cannot be duplicated in an E-book. When you snuggle with your child during bedtime stories or share cookies and milk over a favorite comic strip, you're also creating cherished family memories.

Listening, not just hearing.
How often do you hear parents say that their children don't listen, or if they do listen, they never hear exactly what was said? Active listening seems to be a lost art. Long gone are the days when families gathered around the radio to tune in a popular program. But a radio-like experience can still be a helpful tool for teaching children how to listen, even though it has taken a backseat to the visual stimulation TV, movie and computer screens offer.

So on your next family road trip, put in a storybook tape or CD. When you stop to rest or refuel, ask your children about the story they just heard and have them recall as many details as possible. Then praise their listening skills, and treat them to a special reward if they were able to recall specific details. Keep the game fun and look for other opportunities to teach active listening skills.

Creative play.
Don't take the power of play for granted. Besides the physical strength your toddler gains from playing, he or she also learns self-control and develops a sense of self-worth. Activities like learning to jump rope, plant a garden with Mom, play leap frog with a sibling or feed a bird on the back fence are as educational as any computer game.

Remember: Introducing your toddler to technology through computers and electronic games is ok, but there needs to be a balance between children's use of technology and the social engagement that spurs their healthy growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of high-quality screen time per day for ages 2 to 5 years. With correct moderation, it can be one of the best ways to help your child become a "talented toddler" rather than a "techno tot."