While there are no official recommendations determining appropriate ages for when children and tweens can start using different types of technology, there are some key questions parents should ask before buying toys or electronics. These guidelines, compiled by child-development experts Kathy Hirsh-Pasek at Temple University and Roberta Golinkoff at the University of Delaware, are a good place to start:
Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child. "Our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn't command the child, but lets the child command it," Hirsh-Pasek says.
Toys are meant to be platforms for play. "Toys should be props for a child's playing, not engineering or directing the child's play," Golinkoff says.
How much can you do with it? "If it's a toy that asks your child to supply one thing, such as fill-in-the-blank or give one right answer, it is not allowing children to express their creativity," says Hirsh-Pasek.
Look to see if the toy promises brain growth. "If the toy is promising that your child is going to be smarter, it's a red flag," Hirsh-Pasek says. "If it is promising that your child is going to be bilingual or learn calculus by playing with it, the chances are high that this is not going to happen - even with a tremendous amount of parental intervention."
Does the toy encourage social interaction? Golinkoff says parents should "look to see if more than one child can play with the toy at the same time, because that's when kids learn the negotiation skills they need to be successful in life."
Does the toy have staying power? The best toys, Hirsh-Pasek said, are ones that entertain or educate on more than one level, ones that spur further thought or different ways of playing. A toy that provides less opportunity for imaginative play than the box it came in might not be the best choice.
- Amy Z. Quinn