iphoneA child today may be forgiven if he didn’t recognize what Fisher-Price’s “chatter phone” is for; toys like these are often bought by parents or grandparents who like the nostalgia factor.

Young children, even toddlers, are much more acquainted with smartphones like the iPhone and Android. In fact, according to a 2013 report by Common Sense Media, 38 percent of children under age 2 have access to a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. The same report says that kids are watching less TV.

This isn’t to say toddlers are toting iPhones to daycare, or that they should be. But if yours is reaching for the nearest device (likely modeling his behavior on what he sees his parents, sitters and siblings do), you can take steps to keep things safe and educational:

  • Handle with care. Smartphones and tablets are notoriously breakable, and toddler hands aren’t always the steadiest. You can mitigate the risk of damage to the phone by sitting your child in your lap and handling the device along with her.
  • Download outstanding apps. Apple and Google stores offer lots of entertaining and enriching apps created just for toddlers (here are some of Common Sense Media’s favorites). Keep the online encounters age-appropriate; your child’s interest will indicate when he’s ready for something more challenging.
  • Monitor every moment. There’s no telling what links or phone numbers toddlers might get into if left unattended. Consider assigning “tap time” with her at a specific time, perhaps after daycare or preschool. Too much activity right before bed could leave children wound up.