(Editor’s Note: In Part 1, Dr. Bennett introduced the topic of screen time for babies and different points of view about what is acceptable. In this next part, she gives some sensible guidelines for how to deal with the topic.)
In summary, research has demonstrated that excessive screen time use by young children may result in developmental delay. Furthermore, educational merit of little ones using screen media remains unproven. The less young children are in front of screens instead of interacting with the real world and real people, the better. Screen media’s inability to read and respond to infant response is a significant handicap and one could imagine how confusing, and perhaps influential, that may be to a young child. However, if parents occasionally allow use of television, phones, or tablets to entertain a child with appropriate content for a short period of time, the baby will not get brain damage. I suggest these sensible guidelines:
◦ With the exception of occasional FaceTime or Skyping with parent monitoring, no screen time before one year old. And once your child is 1-2 years old, limit screen exposure to short intervals with appropriate content. This means 10 minutes a day max. 3D toys they can hold and manipulate are better, and person-to-person contact is best!
◦ Choose interactive (Skype, FaceTime) rather than passive screen media whenever possible.
◦ Get used to saying no to your child. Just because the baby reaches for it, doesn’t mean it’s in her best interest to have it. If you are an awesome parent, you’ll be saying no for the next 18 years…a lot! Get used to it.
◦ Model a healthy media diet yourself. Your energy is best spent chasing babies in and out of blanket forts than day drinking with your girlfriends. Remember that infants and toddlers are laying down extensive neurological hardware that needs quality support. As the parent, you provide the necessary scaffolding for development. Despite efforts to “erase the video deficit” (the one-way nature of screen media) by installing questions and pauses in children’s television programming, only a parent has the exquisite sensitivity to respond to a child’s ever-changing cognitive and emotional needs.
◦ If you’re feeling guilty because you’re attending too much to your screen media instead of your child, listen to that inner voice and make adjustments. Infancy flies by and critical learning windows close. You’ll miss it when it’s gone. Soak in all you can before they get to school age.
◦ I see parents get into trouble, because they are too liberal while their children are young then get resistance when they later try to scale technology use back as the children become more sophisticated in their ability to seek inappropriate material. Set up conservative media guidelines from the get-go by considering how your rules may change in the future. Rather than giving a lot of rope and pulling it back in response to crisis, instead gradually dole it out as your child develops. That means very little media time with very little children.
◦ Use good judgment with screen media content as well as exposure time. There is evidence that, just as a lack of stimulation is harmful to development, so is over-stimulation.
• Here are two simple guidelines our family adopted from the get-go that you too can implement right now, even if you have babies at home. Both encourage learning with family conversation and play with non-tech options. If it’s a way of life from the beginning, it’s easy to enforce. I am certain you won’t regret it.
No media use at dinnertime.
No screens in bedrooms.
In the final part of this series, Dr. Bennett will share some information from Developmental Psychology, which indicates what is happening in the first two years of a babies growth. For more information, please check out Dr. Bennett’s blog: getkidsinternetsafe.com