ROSEDALE, Md. (WJZ) -- Tablets and toddlers: A warning for parents of tech-savvy children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children under two should avoid all screen time.
Jessica Kartalija reports doctors and therapists fear too much time on touchscreens could cause long-term damage.
Playtime for babies is far different in the 21st century. But parents could be making a big mistake putting touchscreens in the hands of toddlers and young children.
Parents think they're educating and stimulating their kids, but doctors and therapists are raising a red flag -- too much screen time can hurt their developing bodies.
"If they are always on the iPad and not actually doing those paper pencil activities that they should still be doing, those muscles are going to remain weaker," said occupational therapist Lindsay Marzoli, Learning and Therapy Corner.
Like most 6-year-olds, Nolan Ulrich loves playing on his family's iPad in their Rosedale home. His mom limits his screen time, but still worries about how much is too much, especially knowing it can lead to muscle weakness.
"Is it OK for them to be constantly looking at something for 20 or 30 minutes straight?" said Tammie Ulrich. "I did not know this would be a part of our parenting and our teaching."
Kartalija: "What does this work on?"
Nolan: "My finger and hand movements."
This game looks like fun, but it's actually part of Nolan's occupational therapy. He's working on hand-eye coordination and finger movements like grasping and pinching, as well as balance and posture -- all problems kids can develop if they spend too much time with touchscreens, instead of running, jumping, building and drawing.
Kartalija: "This isn't just about the fine motor, it's about their body as well."
Marzoli: "What we're seeing is a lot of children coming in with some motor delays, some decreased muscle strength in areas."
Therapists are seeing more kids like Nolan. A just-released survey on tablets and toddlers shows the number of kids using touchscreens has doubled in the past two years -- almost 40 percent of babies under two and nearly 75 percent of kids under eight are using them.
"They tap and something happens. So they tap and wow! Something happens there. And that's very enticing," said Dr. Timothy Doran, a pediatrician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
What does this mean for generations to come? The technology is so new, researchers can't predict what damage may be done. That has doctors very concerned.
"Unlimited use, three-four hours of iPad use on their own -- where the parents aren't involved -- seems to me that you are flirting with developmental danger," Doran said.
It's a warning Nolan's family takes to heart.
"Sometimes we set a timer now," he said.
Trying to limit too much swiping and tapping that could change how an entire generation is developing.
Therapists say you can find plenty of worthwhile educational apps for children, but suggest limiting touchscreen use to no more than 15 minutes at a time.
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