As I was hanging out with my one-year-old niece on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by a pool of abandoned toys, books and snacks, there was only one thing she was interested in - no prizes for guessing. Yep, my phone.
No matter how much I tried to distract her with books, cuddly toys and even a new toy car, and no matter how well I tried to hide my phone, her determination was unwavering. And being the textbook rule-bending aunt that I am, I gave in.
Laughing to myself as she mimicked my thumb actions and broke her way into my phone, it struck me how naturally everything came to her. Just like instinct. Or you could even say, a second language.
It made me think about what impact such an early interaction with technology could have on her future.
Will her generation navigate their way to 'genius' status?
Perhaps 'masters of innovation', introducing us to technological concepts we don't yet have the bandwidth to comprehend?
With limitless information at their fingertips and an early understanding of logic, language and image association, we might be wrong to keep demonising device use by toddlers.
Heather Kirkorian, University of Wisconsin suggested that screens hold potential for toddlers, and that “kids interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster.”
However, the trick is to guide them with the right calibre of apps and interactive tools.
While I’d consider myself a digital native, my niece's generation's cognitive development is taking place alongside a hugely progressive technological revolution. One in which they can navigate their way around a device before they can form a sentence. I remember a time before phones, but for my niece, it will be inherent. She’ll never know what it was to have to use a pay phone or wait to see someone in the flesh before speaking face-to-face.
There is no evidence to suggest that screen time is detrimental to young toddlers. But this kind of early and intuitive interaction is unprecedented. Toddlers today are incredibly savvy and curious.
If we look at how millennials have disrupted how we buy, sell, and communicate today, we can only imagine what this new generation of nomads will bring to our future.
Children under five years old have an uncanny knack of knowing how to master new technology. From smart phones to tablet computers and game consoles, it is not unusual to see toddlers intuitively swiping screens and confidently pressing buttons. Even if parents enjoy the momentary peace that comes with handing a small child a gadget to play with, parents secretly worry that this screen time is damaging their brains. But it appears that screens can be beneficial to learning - and the more interactive the experience the better.