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Little toddler boy of two years playing with tablet pc .

A recent study conducted by Common Sense Media surveyed the parents of children from infants through the age of 8 across the U.S. and discovered that 38 percent of children who are younger than 2 years old have used a mobile device for playing games, watching videos or another media-related purpose. Just two years earlier in a similar study, that number was just 10 percent. For children who have reached the age of 8, 72 percent have used a smartphone, tablet or similar device.

Young children’s minds are especially vulnerable as they are still developing, so how is this advancing world of technology affect them? The director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Dr. Gary Small, says the generations are now separated by what it referred to as a “brain gap” between the younger “digital natives,” and older “digital immigrants.”

Small says technology is changing our brains, with the “digital natives,” who have grown up in a world filled with laptops and mobile devices, spending an average of more than eight hours every day exposed to digital technology which rewires their brain’s neural circuitry. It enhances multi-tasking, reasoning, and decision-making skills, but it also tends to weaken social interaction skills as well as emotional aptitude such as empathy.

Dr. Ari Brown, who was the lead author on the American of Academy Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for toddlers and television, likens the boob tube to smartphones. She says that while the new policy does not specifically address these devices, that, for example, if a parent brings up an Elmo video on YouTube and hands the smartphone to their child, it’s just as passive as if he or she were watching TV.

However, Brown notes that there is a significant difference in regard to apps and interactive games as it’s a totally different way of using the brain. She believes that there are some apps that may offer real educational use and that if parents play the app with their child, it can also help encourage sharing.

The AAP recommends limiting screen time as well as offering educational media and other non-electronic formats like books and board games.

The director of Media Psychology Research Center, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, notes that the educational possibilities a device like a smartphone presents, should also play a part in the parent’s decision-making process as to whether or not a child should have a smartphone. She believes that introducing a child to the technology at a young age will help to provide them a solid foundation for functioning in our ever-increasing digital world.

At the age of 2, or even younger, children having their “own” cell phone might not be the solution; however if your pricey smartphone is off-limits, you might consider a cheap Android phone from T-Mobile that is fully-dedicated to family games and learning apps.

Here are a few apps to consider:

Learn to Talk

Learn to Talk is an award-winning smartphone app that helps facilitate language development in young children ages one to three years old. This outstanding educational tool can be downloaded on iTunes and features 160 interactive, bright flash cards that help engage and motivate toddlers to acquire language and vocabulary basics.

Kidzongs

Kidzongs is an excellent smartphone app that encourages parent and child interaction. Parents can share and listen to some of their favorite childhood songs and even sing along. It combines the use of acoustic instruments with simple animated lyrics meant to foster a love of music as well as early reading skills.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

Many parents, if not most, grew up with Dr. Seuss. This makes the Dr. Seuss’s ABC app lots of fun for Mom, Dad, and child. It introduces parents and kids to the interactive version of the author’s fabulous rhyming books, encouraging a love a reading as well as developing imagination. Download it on Google Play.