EXPERTS in child psychology have spoken of their concern that almost a third of Irish todd-lers could now be using tablets and smartphones before they have learned to read.
Trinity assistant professor in educational psychology Dr Conor McGuckin has warned that at an age when children should be learning to communicate, they are glued to screens and not interacting with people.
He was speaking as research in the US and UK has revealed a growing number of young children now using mobile devices, with the number of babies and infants under two using the technology rising to 38pc in the US and 28pc of three to four-year-olds in the UK.
Leading psychologists have warned that the same figures would apply here, and urged policy-makers to look at young children's access to technology.
"We're exposing children to developmental levels that they are not ready for," warned Dr McGuckin.
"Basically, at that age children should be learning the art of conversation, how to take turns and mimicking behaviour. They need to be exposed to social norms. If they are mostly interacting with a tablet, they are not getting that feedback from others."
Dr McGuckin said the increased use of technology by younger children could be putting them at risk of "nature deficit disorder".
"In their formative years children should be learning experiences from outside. Now we're in a situation where many have never collected frog spawn or gone for nature walks," he said.
"Just because technology has increased doesn't mean a child's development has. They still develop at the same rate as our parents or we did.
"In the real world, we teach children to cope. We teach them to wear a coat if they go outside or to take care when crossing the road. We've no idea how to teach them to cope with the online world."
His concerns were echoed by Dr Ciaran McMahon, of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, who said the first two years of a child's life were responsible for a significant amount of development.
"Object permanence is fundamental and this is something they learn early," he said.
"With tablets, children press the screens and pictures keep changing, then if they are given magazines they are confused."
However, both experts acknowledged the positive aspect of children using such technology if properly monitored.
Dr McMahon also praised the social advantages of online literacy, but stressed that there must be a debate among the public and among policy-makers about the implications of young children using such technology.
"Society dictates what is not suitable for children and legislates for that," he said.
"This is in the hands of the people and therefore in the hands of Government."