baby-boy_web.jpgMIAMI (AP) — Whenever Amber Mullaney goes out to eat at a restaurant, she asks her husband to get the phone ready to hand over to their 2-year-old daughter, Tatum. The phone — with its ability to stream episodes of Dora the Explorer — is a godsend, says Mullaney, a marketing manager for a technology company.a

Mullaney is in good company. About 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds (and 10 percent of kids younger than that) have used a smartphone, tablet or video iPod, according to a new study by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media. Roughly 1 in 5 parents surveyed said they give their children these devices to keep them occupied while running errands.

There are thousands of apps targeted specifically to babies and toddlers — interactive games that name body parts, for example, or sing nursery rhymes. It has become commonplace to see little ones flicking through photos on their parents’ phones during church or playing games on a tablet during a bus, train or plane ride. Parents of newborns rave about an app that plays white noise, a womb-like whoosh that lulls screaming babies to sleep.

In fact, Toymaker Fisher Price has just released a new hard case for the iPhone and iPod touch, framed by a colorful rattle, which allows babies to play while promising protection from “dribbles, drool and unwanted call-making.”

“If you're raising children, you've got to raise them with the times,” says Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, who lives in Silicon Valley and founded

the family travel website “If adults are going all digital, how can we expect children to be left behind?”

She points out that Karam also has books, crayons and Legos. “It's not replacing any of these things; it's one more thing he's getting exposed to,” she says.

Experts say balance is key. “It's really important that children have a variety of tools to learn from,” says Cheryl Rode, a clinical psychologist at the San Diego Center for Children. “You want them to have the ability to find lots of different ways to engage themselves.”

Photo: Stock Photo