COLUMN: Balancing new technology

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I work in digital media for a living; I’m constantly on a laptop, iPad or smartphone. I see huge benefits with these devices both as a parent and a website manager. And Libby, my 3-year-old, is now becoming a tech-savvy toddler.

She knows how to use an iPad and iPhone better than her grandmother does. Sorry, Mom, but it’s the truth. She can turn the iPad on, find the folder with her apps, flip through photos and turn up the volume, to her father’s dismay. She’s even tried to make some “in-app purchases” to get more princess crowns and dresses for her virtual dolls. We’ll have big problems if she figures out my iTunes password.

Our iPad is like a magical tool when we are on long car rides and the “are we there yet?” chorus starts in the backseat. It also allows me to join in on the adult conversations happening when we go out to dinner. I wouldn’t be surprised if restaurants started supplying iPads instead of pages to color on. There were more kids than parents on phones and iPads in the dance registration line in the Parks and Recreation building this year. (If you’ve ever waited in that very long line, you know why.)

While almost all of the apps that we have downloaded for Libby are educational, I realize no device can replace face time (no pun intended) with a parent. Learning through play, exploring outside and just daydreaming are things that can’t be done while looking at a screen.

There is a balance that can be reached. A friend of mine has a great rule for her kindergartener that we plan to use at our house. She has two jars, one with rocks in it, the other empty. Every time her daughter wants to watch TV or play on the iPad she moves a rock, each worth 20 minutes of screen time. When all the rocks are moved to the other jar, her screen time for the day is up. The number of rocks is up to you and could change for school nights versus weekends, or could be earned for doing chores, etc.

With the sheer volume of apps available for kids, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide what to download. We have downloaded some great apps, along with some that were almost immediately deleted. Here is my list of Libby’s favorites — and mine, too.

— Cookie Monster: The Great Cookie Thief.

Why parents love it: This app includes 20 parent tips to help children practice memory skills, build vocabulary and inspire imagination.

Why kids love it: The book will read to you with highlighted words and has a sticker page that kids can decorate.

— Letter Quiz: Learn the ABCs

Why parents love it: The app is focused on learning the alphabet. Kids can practice tracing letters and matching upper and lower case letters

Why kids love it: There are four different games with positive feedback

— Endless Alphabet: Interactive spelling puzzles come to life

Why parents love it: This app helps build vocabulary while teaching letters.

Why kids love it: Adorable monsters act out each word with a short and funny animation.

— Winnie the Pooh: Pooh’s Birthday Surprise

Why parents love it: This interactive storybook is designed to reinforce early literacy and pre-math concepts like simple patterns and problem solving.

Why kids love it: They get to help plan the surprise birthday party for Pooh by decorating cupcakes, gathering balloons, and finding gifts.

Our kids are growing up in a touch screen generation. It is up to the parents to embrace the technology and develop healthy media habits.

Carrie Cole is Digital Media Manager at the American News. Contact her by email at ccole@aberdeennews.com, call 605-622-2294 or follow @CarrieCole_AAN on Twitter.