July 10


What is the Brain Impact of Allowing Screen Time for Babies 0-2 Years Old – PART 1

By Tracy Bennett

Editor’s Note:  We haven’t published much about the development of an infant’s brain, but since this is a site about optimal brain fitness and function, accelerated learning and maximizing your potential, we thought that this article was relevant.  There is still a lot of research that is needed in this area, but it does seem like using a bit of caution is warranted. We present this article to you from Dr. Tracy Bennett as food for thought and awareness.

By Tracy Bennett

Despite recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to discourage media use for children younger than 2 years old, little ones are spending on average one hour a day in front of screen media, with daily use consistently increasing (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee; Common Sense Media).

Does this pose real risk, or is this discouragement along the lines of just not optimum?

Last weekend on a getaway with my husband, we saw a group of women enjoying an afternoon glass of wine while their toddlers sat strapped into strollers gazing at iPads. What initially struck me was how these women could afford the sedative effects of wine with babies so young. I remember my toddlers draining every ounce of energy I had by the afternoon. As much as I would have loved it, day drinking would have rendered me useless for mothering. Upon reflection, I perhaps should have been more concerned with the fact that developing babies were passively staring at screens instead of crawling on the grass between delighted mommies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging. If I would have had an iPad available during that stage, I’m certain I would have used it. But I’d have felt guilty about it and craved guidelines about how much was OK and why. Credible authorities like the AAP recommend no to little screen time for infants and toddlers, but the why is a harder question to get at with research still in its infancy.

As a university professor I’m compelled to give this advice about babies and screen time: “No screen time AT ALL. The frequent synchronized dance between parent and child is key to healthy cognitive, motor, language, emotional, and social development and must not be interrupted. An infant’s brain has a critical window for learning. Mutually interactive input during this phase of development should be optimized. Furthermore, despite the large number of screen media education programs for infants and toddlers on the market, educational merit of such programs remain unproven (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee). Parents, hold off on allowing your children to view screen media until they reach preschool age. And perhaps more importantly, keep your own use at a bare minimum. Attend to your developing babies instead.”

As a mother I’m compelled to say: “Pffft. Technology is not the enemy. YOU try to keep a little one stimulated every second of the day and tell me a break here and there isn’t warranted. Yes, no use during infancy; but how about occasional 10-minute sessions for toddlers ages 1-2 years when mom and dad are desperate to eat more than three bites at a restaurant. Lighten up and incorporate limited screen time when necessary to an already enriching day.”

And finally, as a psychologist I suggest moderation. Without question, frequent parent-child interaction is irreplaceable as a support to all types of healthy development. The mother’s and child’s brains are designed to be exquisitely responsive to each other for progressive learning. Hours of eye gazing and verbal and nonverbal encouragement is an intricate dance that builds mutual attachment and teaches the child about the responsiveness and safety of the world. With caregivers soothing and modeling, the child builds self-regulation skills; learning that builds brain structure and will affect him throughout his lifespan. Furthermore, if the infant is seeking interaction, it is reasonable to believe that watching a person talk AT him without response may be confusing and even distressing to the child, perhaps contributing to attachment problems research has demonstrated with nonreactive, depressed mothers. The child should be reinforced for interactive behaviors, not ignored because the audience is an actor on a screen. We certainly don’t want a child to slow down or stop trying to elicit interaction because of a learning history with failed attempts.

On the other hand, children are resilient and typically participating in a variety of stimulating activities. Occasional, brief parent time-outs are unlikely going to result in catastrophic learning gaps. Furthermore, interactive technological like Skype and FaceTime may give the child access to attachment figures and stimulating activity of pure reciprocal joy they might otherwise have to go without. Just remember that like infants, toddlers are demanding of attention for excellent reason – they need it for healthy development! Also, parents lose time (and don’t realize it) when they get lost in the vortex of technology, so active monitoring of the parent’s screen media diet is essential. We parents know how easy an intended 30 seconds turns into 10 minutes. Getting in the habit of turning the phone off during extended interaction periods is best.

This post was originally published on:  http://getkidsinternetsafe.com.  Part 2 will be published on Sunday (July 13) and will contain Dr. Bennett’s summary of the above and some of her guidelines for allowing “screen time.”

What do you think?

About the author

I am a mother to three great kids, a clinical psychologist who treats children, teens, and adults in my private practice, and I teach at California State University Channel Islands. Over the last 20 years, I have seen my clients get into increasingly dangerous situations due to Internet use. Parents are often desperate for guidance and lost as to where to find it. As a parent myself, I know how important this issue is to healthy child development and how difficult it can be to find an effective solution. In response to those difficulties, I decided to be a part of the solution on a larger scale.

GetKidsInternetSafe.com prevents problems rather than trying to repair the damage once it’s been done. I look forward to getting to know you as we create an effective and supportive GetKidsInternetSafe community!

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