Q: My son is 3 years old, and he loves media devices, such as computers and telephones (like the iPhone). My husband bought him a program from PBS Kids, and now he has access to all games and some shows as well. He can spend hours playing with it. Sometimes I don’t really know how to handle the situation. How long he should spend with this program?
Media Maven's Mom, in Abbington, MA
A: Dear Media Maven's Mom,
There are pros and cons of kids playing with iPhone apps so there's a lot to consider in that regard. But research shows that the right television programming can be a positive addition to your 3-year-old's life, and you've got a great question about how to make sure that his media use stays positive.
First, consider the program’s content. PBS Kids aims to create educational content with positive role models, and according to their website they work with educators, researchers, and subject-matter experts to ensure their shows are developmentally appropriate for kids. While iPhone apps in general have not been on the market long enough for their effects on kids to be researched, at least the content your son is watching and playing with comes from a reputable organization.
Another thing to note is that your son's attention span at this age is quite limited. Just as a preschooler cannot be depended upon to determine when to go to bed or whether he’s eaten enough veggies, the fact that he can play or watch for hours does not mean that doing so is ideal for him. I would recommend including these media for no more than 20 or 30 minutes, up to twice a day.
You might also want to think about setting time limits on all shows and games—even those designed to be optimal for his developmental stage. Just like you aim to get him in the habit of brushing his teeth before bed, if you can get him to have healthy media habits now, you'll set him up for success as he gets older.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,