Doctors say toddlers can become addicted to smartphones, tablets

CINCINNATI - We love our smartphones and tablets. And if you have children, you know they love them just as much. But how much is too much?

Doctors say a growing number of kids are becoming addicted to smartphones and tablet.

Dawn Minton has her hands full. With three young kids in the house, she's got a lot to juggle. Madeline is 5, Macie is 3, and Will is 15 months old.

They have a playroom full of toys, but it hasn’t always been the most popular room in the house.

"There was a point when we were like we have this playroom is anyone going to play with the toys and that's when we were like we really have to limit this, this is crazy," Minton said.

Like a lot of kids these days, Madeline and Macie love to use their parent's smartphone and iPad.

"We definitely have to limit their time on it or they'd be on it all day long," Minton said.

Macie, 3, started playing games on the iPad when she was 1 and half years old.

It didn't take long for her to get attached.

"I would reach over and my iPad or iPhone would be missing so I'd get up and go looking and usually it would be in Macie's room, she'd be sitting in her chair with her feet propped up just playing the iPad," Minton said.

Many parents have been there when they need just a few minutes to get ready in the morning or are out running errands and the kids start to lose it.

In those moments, a smartphone or iPad can be a lifesaver.

But if parents are not careful, too much screen time can turn into a serious problem for kids.

Doctors are now seeing toddlers as young as 4 become addicted to smartphones and iPads.

In some cases, it's so bad they need therapy for behavioral issues. In the U.K., doctors have treated a 4-year-old girl for her iPad addiction.

Dr. Timothy Doran, head of pediatrics at GBMC says he has not seen any patients yet with an iPad addiction. But he says it can certainly become a problem.

"The interaction of an iPad or an iPhone is very different from a computer because it is so interactive that it can be very, very enticing," Doran said.

What makes the iPad so enticing for younger kids is they don't need to know how to read, write or type -- all they have to do is touch the icon and swipe.

And while many studies have been done on the harmful effects of TV, doctors still have a lot to learn when it comes to this new form of entertainment.

"When you look at studies on television, children who look at television, when you look at them for an hour, they will turn away from the TV about 150 times an hour, with an iPad or an iPhone they are just stuck on that media as opposed to television. Is that good or bad I don't know but it certainly tells us that they're not interacting with their environment, they're not interacting with the people in their room," Doran said.

If you have concerns about your child being over exposed to a smartphone or iPad, Dr. Doran says there's a simple solution.

"One of the things that children are missing these days is something called unstructured time. So that's time where the children are just doing nothing. They're given a toy to play with and they have to make up games and they have to create their own play and we know that's really good for the brain. We know that's really good for their development," Doran said.

It's advice Minton tries to stick to with her own kids, especially 3-year-old Macie.

"She knows our rules and we're not going to stay on the iPad all day and so after the scream she usually gets over it and we just redirect her to the playroom," she said.

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