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iPad Toddlers: The Guinea Pig Generation

David Crook of Manhattan Beach noticed something disturbing about a year ago when his son, Nathan, was only three. Nathan’s attachment to the family’s iPad was a bit more intense than his father preferred.

“We went through a period when he was using it a lot. I felt like he was getting a little addicted to it,” Crook says.

Crook is not alone.

Just 29 months after Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad — the first truly successful tablet computer — many parents are finding their toddlers, in their words, “addicted” to the device in a way that differs from other playthings or even the ubiquitous television set.

And the lack of long term studies on the impact of this new technology on child development has many leading experts concerned.

“As a society, we are conducting a gigantic experiment on our kids,” says Daniel Anderson, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has long studied the impact of television on young minds. “We have no idea how it’s going to turn out.”

While it is hardly a secret that children often sit transfixed in front of the home television screen, what makes iPads and similar devices truly unique, say experts in child development, is the fact that they tend to accompany the child wherever the family goes. Parents tend to use these new devices as pacifiers, sometimes giving an iPad to the toddler while texting or surfing the web on their own tablet computers or smartphones.

The result: no real engagement with the child, who gets lost in a virtual world that is mesmerizing to the developing mind.