We live in a world where we are surrounded by countless screens connected to the internet.
They range from smart TVs, laptops, tablets, smartphones to game consoles.
Now that these devices have become a part of our daily lives, there is no doubt our kids will be exposed to them from an early age.
And there is not much we can do to prevent it or avoid it altogether.
I personally don’t know many parents who haven’t used screen time to gain a bit of rest.
Or simply to keep their children occupied…
According to a survey, over 92% of 1-year olds have already had screen time. And my kids are one of these stats.
I have no shame to admit that thanks to the TV, I survived lockdown no. 1,2, and 3. Thanks to the tablet we got through plane journey. And my phone kept my older girl silent during the important work conference call.
However, have you ever wondered if it is safe for babies to spend their time glued to screens of any kind?
Let me explain what you need to know about screen time for babies and young children.
Can My Baby Watch TV?
It may come as a surprise, but there is no hard evidence that exposing babies to screen time is harmful. This is partly because research has not kept pace with rapidly growing digital technology. However, due to limited knowledge on the possible impact of screen time for under-twos, it is safer to avoid it. Infants are more likely to benefit from social interaction and exploring the world actively rather than passively staring at the screen. Once they turn 1.5 – 2 years, they can be slowly introduced to screens. But only for a limited time and under the close supervision of an adult.
1. Experts Views On Children Screen Time
The use of screens by babies and young kids are increasing rapidly with the technology and digital media widely available anywhere in the world.
This means kids spend a lot of their time glued to smartphones, tablets, laptops, video consoles or TV.
Moreover, they can get the hang of these devices so much quicker than many adults!
In the rapidly developing technology of smart devices, scientists are yet to provide solid evidence on how screen time affects babies. Especially on their developing brain.
As of yet, there is no hard evidence that screen time for an infant is actually harmful.
Therefore, there are differing opinions among experts. Here’s what they say:
- World Health Organisation has emphasized that children younger than 24 months should not be exposed to screens. Those older than 24 months are allowed up to 1h a day of screen time. This advice is aimed to promote physical activity in children and combat obesity worldwide.
- On the other hand, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no screen times for babies younger than 18 months. In the 18-24 month age group, screen time can be introduced but only under the supervision of parents who can help them understand what they are seeing. For children aged 2 to 5, up to 1h supervised screen time is recommended.
- Canadian Paediatric Society official guideline says no screen time for children younger than two.
- The UK has not issued any official guidance for screen use for babies. However, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has published a guide for screen time. It states that parents should set the appropriate screen time for their children based on their individual circumstances.
In light of the above, screen time still remains a controversial subject until more strong evidence is available.
Well, it doesn’t really help us, parents, make the best decisions for our little tots, does it?…
2. How Sedentary Screen Time And Watching TV Could Harm Babies?
The biggest concern for medical experts regarding exposure to electronic entertainment for infants and toddlers are the following aspects:
- Screen time generally encourages a more sedentary lifestyle. However, babies should have plenty of physical activities to allow them to grow healthy. Moreover, even at this very young age, being active means your child is less likely to be obese or have health problems later in life.
- Babies who spend too much time in front of a screen miss out on opportunities to play, engage in physical activities, interact with parents and their siblings.
- Screen time may negatively impact the rapidly developing brain. A baby’s brain needs around 18 months to develop sufficiently so it can process the bright colours and motion seen on TV. And to understand them. In other words, babies don’t really benefit from screen time, as they can’t comprehend what they’re seeing. And they don’t learn anything from it until a later age.
- Furthermore, what babies need most is human interaction, hearing the voices and exploring facial expressions of their loved ones. They need parents (and not the screen) to talk to them, read to them, sing to them, and describe the world for them. Babies will also benefit from playing with toys suited to their age. They particularily love mirrors or high contrast shapes. They need such interactions to develop their social and emotional skills. And this is something screen time cannot give to them.
- Screen time may hurt language development, reading, thinking, and short-term memory in babies under 18 months. That’s because babies cannot interact or respond to what they watch while seated in front of the TV. This, in turn, can potentially delay the development of their language skills.
- Furthermore, even having the TV on as a background can have negative impact on language development. And that’s because parents tend to talk less when the TV is on.
- Kids should not be exposed to any digital screen at least an hour before bed. So that they have the chance to wind down for sleep without unnecessary stimulation from the light or content being viewed on-screen.
- Overexposure to screens can decrease attention spans and concentration, which can lead to lower self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
3. When The Screen Time Can Be Beneficial For Kids?
The earliest that the kids can get any real benefit from screen time is at the preschool age – from 24 months onward.
At this age, their brains are developed enough so they can grasp what they see on screen.
However, you should always review the content before allowing your kid to watch it.
Aim for the problem-solving, well-designed, educational programmes or apps. Such content can actually teach them new skills, like shapes, colours, numbers or letters.
So, remember, if you want your child to enjoy screen time, you need to supervise them and get involved when necessary.
By explaining things to your child or discussing the show afterwards, she will gain more from this experience than just leaving her alone in front of the TV or tablet.
4. What Are the Good Practices During Screen Time?
If you decide to introduce your baby to screen time, it is worth setting clear rules and expectations for your child to follow.
These rules may include the following:
- Aim to minimise the screen time as much as you can. Agree with your child and fix the screen time duration beforehand. Try to cap it at 2h a day (or whatever you think is reasonable for your circumstances).
- Make your child bedroom a screen-free zone.
- Keep the TV, games or phone away during mealtime. This rule will help establish a good eating habit and strengthen the family bond.
- Ensure that your baby watches high-quality content and educational shows. Choose programmes or apps with content that is relevant to what she learns in preschool to reinforce her learning.
- Be involved in screening time. If possible, do this together with your child.
- Stop the screen time at least 1h before bedtime to reduce the interference with sleep.
- Avoid snacking during screen time.
- Set the right example for your child! So follow these rules as well 😉
5. Final Few Lines
So to conclude, I think the best advice I can give you is to follow your gut and be reasonable.
Only you know what’s best for your family. And it is up to you whether you want to allow screen time for your baby.
If you decided to allow screen time for your baby just be mindful of how long she is parked in front of the screen. And whether she can benefit from the content she watches.
Young babies won’t benefit from the TV at all.
But, occasional 7-minute episode of Peppa Pig won’t do any harm to your baby. It will, however, make such a big difference to you! So feel no shame if you need to do that!
As a child gets older, she can use technology as an excellent learning tool (but again – in appropriate doses).
If, however, you choose not to allow screen time for your baby, rest assured that your child will not be left behind because she doesn’t know how to swipe across the touchscreen. Considering how easy these devices are to use, she’ll master that skill in no time.