Advice: Disconnect the Digital Babysitter
Trade the device for face-to-face time, touch and movement
Interactive screens, while entertaining for sure, do not lead to healthy brain development and smarter babies. Recent research by the National Institutes of Health gives reason to hit the pause button and look at the science first before adding another “educational” app to your tablet or phone for young kids.
Toddler Minds and Screens
“My baby is so smart. Look, she can work an app on my tablet.” Did you know that your cat can, too? There is a fishing app designed to keep a cat’s attention. The brain-orienting response is a reflex action necessary for survival, so it’s important to not confuse your child’s instinctive reaction to movement on a screen with brilliance.
During the first two years of life your child’s brain doubles in size. Every neuron in a child’s brain develops best in secure human relationships where language can be experienced, eye contact can be sustained and rough-and-tumble play can pave neuronal pathways. Screen overuse in the early years can cause lopsided brain development through overstimulation and by replacing additional foundational activities like unstructured play, music, social skills and language development. Swap the screen time for people time that includes:
Attachment: Attachment is one of the most important early biological and developmental tasks. Attachment disorders can result when excessive screen use replaces human connection. It is the process of intentional emotional interaction and it meets one of a child’s most basic needs. By the time a child is 12 to 18 months of age, these patterns of attachment with parents become the lifelong foundation needed to experience relationships.
Touch: Physical touch, hugs and rough-and-tumble play build healthy brain development. Tactile stimulation activates the parasympathetic system, which lowers stress and anxiety in our kids.
Movement: Exploring the environment is also crucial for early brain development. Babies learn information about their world by crawling, touching everything and putting things in their mouth — for better or worse. Young children require two to three hours per day of active play to achieve adequate sensory stimulation. Toddlers and older kids have healthier brain connections when they are moving and getting exercise.
Your presence, time and focus are what your baby needs more than a distraction device. No one can argue the benefits of technology in today’s world, but over attachment to these devices, especially in the early years, may result in a disconnection from real life. Resist the screen as a babysitter and focus on face-to-face time, lots of spoken words, exercise and hugs to create essential pathways that can serve your child well for the rest of his life. Your child is only young once and needs you more than a screen.
Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce screen overuse. She also has a nursing degree, and is mom to four children. Find more resources at familiesmanagingmedia.com.