Even if technology is the wave of the future, it isn't all smiles and rainbows when it comes to your little one's learning. Although there are certainly benefits to young children using computers, there are also negative effects that you -- as the parent -- need to watch out for.
Although it's unlikely that your preschooler has the attention span to engage with technology for an overly-extended period of time, siting in front of the computer all day long certainly won't lead to physical fitness. In a 2007 study of the effects of TV viewing and computer use on preschoolers' weight and body size in the "International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity," researchers Jason A. Mendoza from the USDA Children's Nutrition Research Center, and Fred J. Zimmerman and Dimitri A. Christakis from the University of Washington found a link between increased weight and more time spent in front of a computer. Specifically, children ages 2 through 5 who use computers were found to have a higher skinfold thickness -- which refers to fat deposits under the skin -- than those who didn't have any screen time.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) notes that the use of computer technology with kids under age 5 can lead to a host of behavioral issues, such as lack of focus or problems with attention. This isn't to say that flipping on the laptop occasionally will infect your child with ADHD. Instead, long hours logged in front of the screen may lead to a lack of focus and some problems paying attention. Parents should keep in mind that even the professionals, such as the experts at NAEYC, concede that the research on the negative behavior effects of computers is mixed. That said, limiting your young child's screen time can't hurt.
Along with the many benefits that computers have to offer your child, computers offer a passive way to learn. Not all computer software or Internet kids' games and activities are equal. While there are some that do provide the opportunity for young children to interact with on-screen friends and characters or take a more central role in the learning process -- such as making decisions -- it is easy for kids to simply stare at the screen. NAEYC says this type of passive inactivity may lead to decreased levels of learning and negatively affect your child's academic development.
The lure of the computer screen can take your little learner away from other pursuits. If you have hazy recollections of running around in the tall grass of your backyard with the neighborhood kids, playing hopscotch or spending the afternoon as a pretty princess in a dress-up drama, think about how computers can quickly take away the opportunity to engage in these activities. Overuse of the computer can interfere with a young child's chance to interact socially with other kids, imagine creative pretend play situations, play with toys and engage in physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Long stretches on the computer can eat into this precious time and take away from more physical pursuits.