Some toddlers today are choosing their parents' smartphones or tablets over dolls or Lego blocks, but some experts say too much screen time at a young age can lead to problems.

Winnipegger Jared Mcketiak's two-year-old son can already download applications, play games and take a picture on his dad's smartphone.

'The younger a person starts gaming the more vulnerable they are to a severe addiction.' —Hilarie Cash, technology addictions expert

"It's kind of scary," said Mcketiak. "I mean we never grew up with that technology."

Skeptical of the implications it could have on his son, Mcketiak has scaled back on the time the toddler is allowed on his smartphone. 

What worries Mcketiak most, however, are responses such as, "No! Give it back," which he gets when trying to take the phone away from the youngster.

"It's a tough thing for me because I embrace technology. I use technology all the time at work. So I see the benefits of it," said Mcketiak. "But it's scary to see how quickly [children] grasp it and how quickly it becomes part of their day-to-day lives."

"They're doing things with the phones that I would have never dreamed of at that age, obviously," he said.

He's not the only one who is concerned. Chapman Daycare in Winnipeg has banned all video games after staff noticed kids were glued to the screen.

Tech addiction a disorder, say experts

Technology and video game addiction is not recognized by the medical field as a disorder, but one Winnipeg-based family therapist says it should be.

Kids and gaming

According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada:

  • Ninety per cent of Canadian children are gaming.
  • Six out of 10 households have a console.
  • Eighty per cent of households have a mobile device — smartphone or tablet.

Corinne Stevens opened her practice three years ago and has been treating up to four teens and adults a week battling the habit.

"I would say right from when I opened my doors I had people coming to me talking about these kinds of issues," she said.

"Places like the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, they don't deal with this because it is not labelled as a recognized disorder, and because of that funding is very difficult for it," she added.

Young gamers are vulnerable

Hilarie Cash, a technology addictions expert in Seattle, Wash., runs Restart, one of the few known internet and video game addiction rehabilitation centres in North and South America.

"The younger a person starts gaming the more vulnerable they are to a severe addiction," said Cash.

A young brain is highly impressionable, and when a child chooses video games over regular play, that should be a red flag for parents.

Cash suggests children younger than two years old should not be allowed any screen time. Those aged three to five should only be allowed to watch television.

Children should not be allowed to play video games until they start school, she said.

It's up to parents to develop healthy guidelines, and if kids are hooked, parents should start a one-week detox to reset the brain, said Cash.