So here is why we embrace interactive technology offered by handheld devices (not just passive screen time) and use common sense to manage it....
21st Century! Technology skills in the age we live in are an absolute necessity. There is no going back, as much as we would want to dream about carefree, technology free days. The secret is using this technology to our benefit, not detriment. While I don't think toddlers under two benefit from this technology in any way, I also don't think that brief exploration of a handheld device by a three year old with a solid 'real world' learning foundation will fry his brains. Technology is advancing at a pace we can't keep up with, I think it benefits our children to learn to use it wisely, to be flexible and adaptable to change.
Learning and Critical Thinking. While I firmly believe that the foundation of how our children learn should be real-world play, I've witnessed with my first child that after a certain age a handheld device benefits and enhances learning in addition to plenty of unstructured play and outdoor time. Could they do without it? Absolutely, people have for nearly all of time anyway! I've seen very young children daily tethered to handheld devices for their short life, you don't have to look hard to see that they are underdeveloped by the age of 3 than peers who get to play freely in the real world and receive interaction with people that aids in the formation of their brain and language skills. But for older children who have already grasped more of reality vs. make believe, who have a developed vocabulary, brief use of handheld devices actually helps with critical thinking, development, and creativity. It's a great source of inspiration beyond what we are daily surrounded with.
Pursuing Passions. Since we are homeschooling in this technologically advanced age, it allows my children and I to learn so much about subjects we are passionate about. Hey, I wouldn't be where I am today with photography if it wasn't for the learning opportunities through technology! While we don't always use a handheld device for this, sometimes we do. It may mean taking a photo of an insect with the iPod so that we can later look up what it is. It may mean watching a video about volcanoes when my daughter asks what an eruption looks like. It may mean watching a how-to video together when my 5 year old tells me she wants to learn to embroider. Sometimes it may just be my 2.5 year old watching the hayride video we filmed over and over and over again because he is a little obsessed with tractors! As they get older, this technology puts the world at their fingertips, there is no limit to what they can learn and how it can help them discover their passion in this life.
Keeping in Touch. Boy do we know this first hand. Now that daddy is temporarily away for three weeks at a time for work - handheld devices are a lifeline! It is the obvious way to keep hubby and wife, daddy and kids connected. I have no smart phone, but my iPod and regular cell phone are the primary way the kids keep in touch with dad. Not to mention we also have family and friends all over the world, technology enables us to keep connected in between the times we see each other in person. As we homeschool, I still want the kids to send snail mail and write letters for practice, I think that's important, but technology isn't going anywhere!
Unconventional Income Sources. I am a testament to the fact that technology has created ways of earning income in ways that were never possible before. It is a huge resource for entrepreneurs like myself. I run two online-only businesses from home and have never met the hundreds of contacts I've built through the internet. This enables me to stay home with our kids and still contribute to our family's income! You would think, yes, that's great for moms. But I say it's great for everyone. Because we are raising children with family values and together-time really high on the priority list, I know that as they get older and start their own families - like us they will wish they had ways to generate income and spend more time with family. Being technologically savvy will only help them in entrepreneurial endeavors.
Learning moderation. This is how children think. "I want it all and I want it now". At least my kids think this way! Giving them access to handheld devices and teaching them (hopefully by example) that it isn't always the proper time to use them, teaches them moderation. They will eventually learn that just because they can, doesn't mean they should. Just like with candy, banning it will only make it worse, they'll binge at every opportunity. They need to learn to control themselves and as parents we are here to help them do this. Does this mean that after a week of demonstrating moderation and teaching them, they will suddenly know how much is too much? No. It's an ongoing process and it's great for the parent to continue both showing and gently teaching moderation throughout their growing years. For example, it may mean there are no handheld devices allowed at meal time, when spending time together as a family, and when at the store checkout. It may mean they never witness you text or browse while you're driving, they need to know the boundaries.