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Tonight: Too Young For Technology?

A young tablet user on the move Photo: ITV / Tonight

Children are using technology at an increasingly younger age. By the time they start school many are already confident using a laptop, smartphone or tablet. But while these devices can be useful learning tools, there’s also growing concern about the impact they’re having on our children’s behaviour. In the Tonight programme - at 7.30pm tonight on ITV - Jonathan Maitland asks, are our toddlers Too Young for Technology?

In the programme we learn that one of the USA’s leading child health organisations The American Academy of Paediatrics is so concerned about the effects of technology that they advise children under the age of 2 should be discouraged from using it.

We find out about the technology habits of children under the age of 3. In a specially commissioned Tonight survey of 2,000 parents, 40% said their child uses a tablet or smartphone at home and 17% said their child had a device of their own.

Tonight reporter Jonathan Maitland faces the technology dilemma with his own son Credit: ITV / Tonight

And we talk to experts who believe that some screen time for children may be educational while others think that children are using mobile devices far too young. One German NeuroScientist believes technology may also seriously affect a child's brain development.

After studying the effects of technology on young children, Professor Manfred Spitzer is convinced touchscreen devices and a developing brain do not mix. He has written a book entitled ‘Digital Dementia’ which considers the theory that digital devices are in some way preventing a young brain from being properly exercised therefore affecting its development.

But it is not just concerns about brain development. Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says that children need to have regular face to face contact in order to pick up the social skills that are vital for them being successful during their lives. He believes that if many hours a day are being displaced by looking at screens passively these skills may not develop as fully. And it could also have an affect on how children interact with each other.

So does technology change the way children play and interact? We decided to find out with a special Tonight experiment. During the programme we compare, with the help of Psychologist Anjula Mutanda, the behaviour of a group of children first of all playing together with traditional toys and then using technology. The experiment provides interesting results!

Whilst there’s criticism from some corners there’s also plenty of support for the educational benefits of youngsters using technology from an early age. As this technology is very new apart from some studies there is no concrete long term scientific evidence that proves use of these devices is affecting our children's brain development.

And Child psychotherapist Barbie Clarke believes there is no need to worry about new technology to the extent that we ban children from using these devices. She says there is a very strong argument to say that children should have access to them and learn how to use them as it is important for their future.

Technology is used in lessons at Cogan Nursery School in Penarth, South Wales Credit: ITV / Tonight

We speak to the Headteacher of a nursery school in Wales that’s one of a small number of preschools to have introduced technology as a learning aid for 3 and 4 year olds. Here the children use tablets, interactive touch screens, computers and QR (quick response) bar-codes that when scanned with a mobile device link the children straight to an educational video. The school believes the kids benefit and learn and so do the parents!

We also take a look at ways to to strike the right balance with a national project aimed at reconnecting children with nature and the outdoors instead of spending time indoors on technology.

With no definitive research up to now more research is needed but in the meantime experts suggest a good healthy balance and everything in moderation is sound advice.