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"That's my iPad, no that's mine"- Kids and computers!

I sometimes wonder how parents survived without smartphones and computers. I remember friends who had children before me guiltily admitting that they used their DVD player as a "surrogate babysitter". We've never had to rope in the DVD player but that's because, quite honestly, the iPhone and iPad have been the childcare alternative of choice since North London Toddler was, well just a toddler.

To give you an idea of our personal journey, it really started with the iPhone,  and the clever guys from Duck Duck Moose who created Wheels on a Bus (if you haven't tried it- check it out here- we'll be reviewing shortly). Not only did this pass the odd tiresome car journey, or wait in a restaurant, but tiny NL Toddler was seriously addicted to the tune (particularly in violin mode), and we used to pipe it through the car stereo when all other anti-crying tactics failed.

Wheels on the Bus moved on to flipping through the photo gallery and videos on the phone (a daily activity from 5.30- 6.30 am when quite frankly we used to place said toddler in bed between us and snooze while she amused herself). From there to You Tube (oh yes- she recognises the icon) and episodes of Peppa Pig. And now my iPad is stacked full of apps, and the biggest source of rivalry between the two North London little ladies in our household.

Should I be worried (or feeling guilty) about my childrens' passionate use of mobile technology? Or that when I packed them off for the night to the granparents the most important thing in the case was the iPad?

There was an interesting column in the New York Times by David Pogue back in February entitled " A Parents' Struggle with a Child's IPad Addiction", where the author contemplated his concern with the symptoms of addiction that his 6 year old showed towards the iPad.  What he wrote sounded somewhat familiar: "When I tell him it’s time to shut off the iPad and head up to bed, or put his shoes on, or head out to the bus, he doesn’t hear me the first three times I ask. Sometimes, he gets bizarrely upset when I say I have to take it away now — out-of-character upset. That’s what makes me think he’s addicted."

The author goes on to consider whether use of an electronic device is a bad thing and I have to say that I am inclined to agree with his thinking: "Is a gadget automatically bad for our children just because it’s electronic? What if it’s fostering a love of music, an affinity for theater and expertise in strategy and problem-solving? Is it a bad thing for a kid to be so much in love with mental exercises?"

The reality, in our household at least, is that the majority of iPad time is spent on a variety of apps which comprise games or challenges which encourage the children to solve puzzles, remember pairs, work out challenges- Peppa Pig's Party Time for example, or inspire creativity such as the numerous drawing and sticker apps which are available.

But some "app time" is simply spent playing games- Toca Boca Hair Salon  is a favourite- and let's face it- this is"playing" for the 21st century, it doesn't replace other forms of engagement or interaction- playing sport, going to the park, reading books (although your iPad will read the story for you if you are really pressed for time!) but it does, in my view, add an extra dimension of interest and fun to day to day activities. In my view playing on the iPhone or iPad is often"downtime" - essential for any child- and a good alternative to watching telly.

 What I have found fascinating is that children from a very young age build up more general computer skills too- encouraged by fab sites such as Cbeebies and Nick Jnr- my view is that these sort of sites are great for young children to engage with their favourite characters- and they require parents to get involved too.

You can see computer skills being taught in nurseries- 1 such company is Click-IT! which runs classes in North London. Click IT! has a unique educational programme, which follows EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) guidelines and teaches children computer skills such as mouse skills, navigation and keyboard use through activities aimed at their age group, which are fun, educational and creative.

The humble computer, smartphones and tablets are here to stay and the challenge for parents is to work out what part they should play in home life. The David Pogue column concludes that the key is "everything in moderation" and I must admit I agree- isn't that an age old lesson for us all (now where's that chocolate cake...").

We'd love to hear your thoughts on kids and the smartphone and tablet revolution!

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