With Dr. Chelsea Arnold, DNP, APRN
No. Absolutely not. The answer is unequivocally no.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should have ZERO screen time in their first two years—and no more than an hour a day for the next three years. This includes children’s shows and educational programming, iPads and cell phones.
We spoke with Dr. Chelsea Arnold, initiative manager with First 1000 Days Suncoast and mother of two, to learn more.
What’s Wrong With A Digital Babysitter?
“80% of brain development happens in the first 1,000 days,” says Dr. Arnold. “And the most critical things that we want children to learn are social skills, where they’re communicating with others.”
This includes learning to read emotions and faces, learning to make eye contact, and beginning to learn the basics of language and communication, as even “baby talk” involves a growing understanding of the back-and-forth nature of conversation.
Watching a video on a screen provides none of that necessary interaction and stimulation for a developing child though.
“They’re not able to use that time to learn the world around them,” says Dr. Arnold. “When they’re watching TV, they’re just zoned out.”
In addition, the bombardment of flashing lights, changing colors and constant music that often makes up children’s programming can be hyperstimulating for their young, undeveloped minds.
“It makes you think about the addicting qualities of this technology as well,” she says.
Because the goal is social interaction, there is one type of screen time that is an exception to the rule: video-chatting with family and friends. “Because you still get that face-to-face social interaction with another individual,” says Dr. Arnold,” and you get that back-and-forth communication.”
So don’t be afraid to put your little one on the screen to meet grandma, it’ll be good for both of them!
Who Needs A Screen?
While keeping kids away from screens is definitely a challenge—both for the kids who want more cartoons and the parents who just want a moment of peace—there are plenty of alternatives that can not only indulge your child’s curiosity, but even deepen the bond between parent and child.
Get Outside: “It can be overwhelming to have a toddler inside,” says Dr. Arnold. “They’re curious and they love to explore their world.” Trips to the park, around the block, or just to that really neat tree at the corner can break up the monotony and spur that sense of adventure more richly than another episode of the latest show.
Baby-Proof Your House: “Make it a safe place for children to explore and have fun,” says Dr. Arnold. Fewer hazards mean fewer restrictions, which translates to less having to say “No” and fewer tantrums. Instead, children can indulge their curiosity around the house without you stressing the whole time.
Rotate Activities & Toys: Young children love toys, but they don’t need to have all the toys, all the time. Bringing toys in and out of the rotation keeps them fresh and new, stimulating your child’s curiosity. And the definition of “toy” is rather loose at this age and even something as simple as sorting multi-colored cotton balls counts.
Find Parenting Groups & Social Opportunities: Whether it’s one of our Sarasota County Public Libraries, which often have story times, play dates and arts & craft activities, or a local nonprofit like Forty Carrots Family Center, dedicated to helping young families, opportunities abound to join other parents and their children for an afternoon out of the house, learning something new. First 1000 Days Suncoast has a free text messaging service that sends parenting tips and ideas for educational activities to your phone every day.
Narrate Your Day: On a certain level, babies are simple creatures and just want to hear their parents’ voices tell them what the world around them is. “Talk about everything you’re doing and everything you see,” says Dr. Arnold. Whether it’s cleaning around the house or just admiring the flowers as you drive by, it’s all new and fascinating for your little one.
“And it’s amazing how much you start appreciating the little things in life.”
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and is afraid of eggplant.