My friend is one of the most digital forward moms I know – her kids were wizards on the iPad by the time they’re toddlers (I’ve seen many other little ones with similar talents as well).
While I felt she had overdone it on the screen time for her young kids, I know that different parents have different parenting styles. And that’s okay! However, it’s still important to know a few essential facts to help you make the best decision for your family.
Screen Time Leads to Delays in Development
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this fact: there is a broad agreement among researchers that any time a baby spends in front of a screen is associated with slower development later in childhood.
The relationship is clear enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you keep screens off around children until they are at least 18 months old. (After that, it’s still a good idea to strictly limit time in front of screens, but that’s an article for another day)
Now, the developmental differences we’re seeing are not severe and really should not cause alarm in most cases.
What we’re talking about here is a noticeable delay in the acquisition of language skills, and there are some pretty convincing theories as to why this is a cause and effect relationship and not merely a random quirk.
With that in mind, I feel it’s important to keep infants screen free as much as possible.
Developing Language Skills
For those who don’t agree with this logic, it might seem a bit contradictory that screen time would not promote language acquisition.
After all, most parents try to show their children educational content when they are using a tablet or iPad.
If nothing else, babies will be seeing videos featuring human characters speaking to each other. Isn’t that all we need to develop language?
The truth is that a digital replacement for early language development doesn’t work as well as hearing words from a real, live person.
It’s tough to unpack all the mental and physical processes at play here. Your baby learns a whole lot more from looking right at mama and listening to her speak. Especially when you compare this to a video of that same woman speaking those same words.
If you watch newborns closely, you can see this in action! When a newborn is held by a parent that is speaking, it’s a full-body experience for the baby.
Their hands might reach out to grab dad’s face. They look all around to see where sounds are coming from. They also might even try to mimic the parent’s facial expressions. All these little bits and bobs of communication get passed to the baby by interacting with live people.
Screen Time Takes Away From Human Interaction
Studies that show problems with newborn screen time report that the time spent staring at screens takes away from time spent listening to adults.
When you think about the time your newborn has to interact with adults, consider that the baby isn’t only learning when you think they are.
Instead, language skills are being developed every second your baby is awake. Whether you’re trying to teach them or not. Babies are little curiosity machines! Their eyes are always looking at their parents and family members.
Consider every moment your child is awake to be valuable learning time. Study after study shows that the best teachers at this stage of life are live humans sitting in the same room as the child.
As much as possible, try to make sure your baby is interacting with real people, either you or some other trusted caregiver, relative or friend who can speak directly to the baby each day.
Challenges with Limiting Screen Time
It’s easy to read the research and decide that your baby should stay away from screens. What’s much more difficult is putting this into practice.
For many adults, reaching for the phone when it rings is almost a reflex at this point (guilty as charged!).
However, it’s not a great idea to do so in front of the baby. The bright screen is entrancing, and if your baby sees you continually reaching for a phone, they’ll soon be trying to do the same.
Create a Plan
Before your newborn arrives, form a plan with your partner. It’s important to be on the same page about limiting your baby’s exposure to phones and other screens.
Try keeping tech devices out of the nursery and talking with friends and family about the choice you’ve made.
Know that limiting your own screen time will help you spend even more time interacting directly with your baby and family. This is an important part of their development.
It can be challenging to limit screen time, especially in the world we live in today! But if you decide it’s the right move for your family, then take the time to execute it well.
The more you can create an environment where your baby gets to interact directly with people, the quicker they will develop language skills and move on to bigger and better things.