Q. I have a three-year-old son and I’ve been thinking about getting him an iPad to help him get used to technology and be more interactive. But a friend told me that some experts say a child can get addicted to an iPad or other little digital devices. Is that true or is it safe?– Diane, Los Angeles, California.

This rumor got started a few years ago when the Sunday Mirror in London reported that a four-year-old girl there was actually treated for being addicted to using an iPad. The newspaper wrote that the girl got the iPad when she was three and was now using it four hours a day and will throw fits if her parents take it away.

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The story was picked up by publications across the globe, leading to widespread conclusions that using digital devices such as the iPad is indeed addictive, particularly for a child.

However, the Huffington Post later reported that the psychiatrist who treated the little girl said the original report was a bit exaggerated.

“It was a very minimal intervention,” Dr. Richard Graham said, according to the Huffington Post. “Her use wasn’t going to be out of control, massively, in the immediate future, but it (the treatment) was a way to find a better balance.”

Graham and other medical experts, say a child, like an adult, can easily get addicted to an electronic device such as an iPad, an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, or almost anything else, for that matter. The key is to carefully monitor your child’s use of the tablet so it doesn’t become the equivalent of a security blanket. That means it needs to be taken away after a period of time to ensure that your child gets involved in other activities. In that respect, it’s not much different than television.

“It is about setting limits,” a Miami doctor told the Huffington Post.

As the parent of a six-year-old daughter, I can attest to this. My little one has been using an iPad since she was about 20 months old and it has significantly helped her hand-eye coordination as well as her capacity to respond to gestures and movement. (We have downloaded games and educational apps that emphasize reacting to different words and objects and solving problems.)

My daughter learning how to use an iPad at two. 

However, because the iPad is a visual device that allows the child to literally reach out and touch it, it can be a very intimate device as well and that can lead to addiction. I’ve seen my daughter try to solve a problem over and over again and then get very frustrated when she can’t reach a solution.

In those cases, either me or my wife will step in and try to explain how she can handle the situation better. It’s not always easy — she’s a kid after all — but I’ve been amazed at how much she has learned about patience and problem-solving from using an iPad.

Still, we make sure that she doesn’t overuse the tablet by encouraging her to do other things such as playing with her toys (and her cats), drawing, reading, and horsing around with Mommy and Daddy. Even though she loves her iPad (and Daddy’s Fire HD 10 Kindle), she loves the attention of her parents even more and she will usually gladly drop the device to see what we have in store for her.

So, Diane, the decision is yours, but I think you’ll find the iPad to be a very educational tool.

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