The Happy Medium: Technology and Your Baby

Occasionally, my boyfriend and I have dinner with his almost two year-old nephew, William and their family. For the past two years when we eat, the routine often ends with William watching a show on his mom’s phone while he slowly munches on his food. Often, William’s mom will take a Facetime call to show William what his grandma is doing. Grandma sends him kisses and tries to get him to say “grandma” as he tries his best to do so. During her pregnancy, William’s mom would often remark about how she didn’t want to let her son become too attached to a screen. Seeing children watching shows on their iPads at restaurants, on flights, and sometimes in strollers, it wasn’t hard to see why she was concerned. Over time, however, Facetime and educational programming seems to have become fully immersed into William’s day to day. At our most recent dinner she said that, “It’s only for a few minutes and it makes feeding him easier.”

I began to wonder if there is a healthy dose of screen time for babies and a specific age that parents should begin integrating technology into their infants’ daily routines. Moreover, I wanted to find if altering the public perception of providing screen time for children being “poor parenting” could be altered through published research.

Studies from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development and the American Academy of Pediatrics culminates into three important claims.

  1. Children under two or three years of age do not tend to learn much from viewing screen media when watching alone.

  2. Children below two years-old should be introduced to high-quality program (i.e. Sesame Street) and parents should watch it with their kids to explain what is being shown.

  3. Screen media can pose benefits even when under 18 months-old so long as its video-chatting and supplemented by parental co-viewing.

Prioritizing interaction is essential when introducing children to technology. Apart from the added benefit of spending more time with your child, it serves as the backbone of cultivating an active, learning mind. There is genuine truth that telling stories, playing with toys, and exploring the outdoors are great modes of facilitating growth in children. However, screen time can be easily integrated into this list. By explaining what is being shown, repeating common phrases said throughout the program, and exposing children to the recommended one hour per day of quality programming or Facetiming, screens can do just as much, if not more than the common catalysts for development. Learning through well-formatted shows alongside your child and seeing family and friends who live far away through a screen are luxuries that our parents did not have! We are fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy these comforts – so long as they are utilized correctly.

In a sense, what the research shows is unsurprising. There is no substitute for time spent alongside your child. Attention, explanation, and love serve as the synergy for growth. Whether it be through conventional means or through a screen – there is no replacement for any of these elements. Through technology, parents of the modern age are arguably able to enjoy more luxuries than previous generations. However, that does not mean this should be taken for granted. As screens become more integrated and integral to society, a happy medium of being together with your child during screen time and limiting screen time appropriately is necessary for a healthy baby.

Jocelyn is passionate about all things technology for moms and babies.