Screen Time and Your Baby

Once upon a time, the technological babysitter came into this world and parenting was changed forever. Television. iPad. Leap Pad. Smart phone. Portable DVD player. Oh how clutch these things can prove on an endless car ride, long wait at the doctor’s office, or shower time for a very worn-down mommy.

The AAP’s media kit includes extensive information about age-specific suggestions for all stages of development and empirical research on the effects of screen time and types of programming (e.g. violence). Consider what your child is not doing if they sit to watch television—they aren’t utilizing their own creativity, expressing their thoughts, interacting with others, building motor skills, spending time outdoors, or learning interactive skills like listening and sharing, among other things. AAP takes the stance that unstructured play is exactly how children, including those under the age of 2, develop in these areas.

Sure, we don’t always have to be doing something with our time, but a young child’s mind is constantly forming and growing. A child’s brain mass triples in the first year of life! The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under 2, and limiting screen time for children over 2 to just one or two hours per day. This “media diet” also includes setting up schedules or curfews for watching television, monitoring the quality of the programming children digest, and setting up screen-free zones in the home.

Here are a few things to consider when assessing use of screen time:

  • Evaluate the home. Where are the screens? Remember to include video games, computers, phones, and tablets as well as televisions. Consider removing them or making them less accessible. Instead of a row of movie cases on the shelf, we store them in a cd case that zips up and hides in a drawer. My toddler forgets we have an iPad sometimes—until he sees it.
  • Don’t just remove technological opportunities—replace them. We have a basket for books in most rooms of our small home. I include both classic children books as well as books with some of my son’s favorite characters.
  • Scout out quality programming. We know when a few favorite shows are on PBS. I also made a child-specific Netflix identity for our kids that I pre-stocked with shows I approve. I spent an evening sifting through apps, keeping the most appropriate and deleting the rest. I also restricted our 3-year-old’s ability to make in-app purchases or shop for new apps. Utilize resources like Netflix and Amazon Prime to play shows when it’s convenient for you. Instead of being held to the schedule of the TV, you can turn it on when you do need that shower, are in the middle of an intense part of meal prep, or other times when you really would appreciate the distraction of television for your kiddo.
  • Assess YOUR use of screens. This one hurts. When I saw how I am an example to my children AND how technology often distracted me from giving them my full attention, I had to take note. We no longer own smart phones because we just don’t need them. Considering your use of screen time may also provide second-hand screen time to your kiddo. It may be a “mommy show” on TV, but they’re still taking it in.
  • Check nostalgia at the door. Star Wars. Winnie the Pooh. Super heroes. My Little Pony. Oh, memories. Remember you have plenty of time to share your most beloved characters with your kids; wait until they are developmentally ready so they can enjoy them to their fullest!

Lynette Moran shares her life with her husband and two sons, ages 1 and 3 years. She has cloth diapered both since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

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