I was sitting calmly at the reference desk when a woman came in with her little baby and frantically asked to speak to a librarian. She desperately wanted information on computer or TV screen time for babies. She had heard no screen time until they were two years old but she really really wanted to catch up on some shows and was wondering if would be okay to have the baby in the room while she watched. My first thoughts were of course! Have you lost your mind? Babies can't even see anything more than 12" away from their face. I tried to reassure her that the no screen time under two is really more about just giving your baby an iPad or plunking them down in front of the TV for hours, but then I started researching and I can see why she was so freaked out.
The no screen time recommendation comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics and it discourages any screen time for children under two, including having the television on in the background. The child won't necessarily watch a show they don't understand but the parent will be focusing on the program, not the child. In addition, just having the TV on supposedly impedes language development. This makes sense to me. As a librarian I am well aware that babies and toddlers learn best by interacting with people, not screens. It is critical to to provide children with undivided attention in order to best facilitate their development. But still, my heart went out to this first time mother with her six-month-old baby and frazzled fear. She just really, really wanted to catch up on "Vampire Diaries" and even though my baby hasn't been born yet, I can totally relate.
Our children will need technological skills to navigate our world and are essentially born digital. However, they still need face-to-face interaction—it's how our species evolved and is an integral part of our survival skills. But let's be sensible about it.
I am a Netflix binger and I can't be stopped. I particularly enjoy watching shows while exercising but I figured that when my baby is born and I'm totally exhausted I would just watch TV while I breastfeed. Now I'm wondering if that is okay, and wondering that makes me wonder if I'm okay? I mean, having a kid these days seems awfully stressful compared to my own childhood experience. I'm that sticky generation in between X and Millennials and the interwebs is rife with stories about how our parents let us run free in the neighborhood, everyone ate PB & J without fear of accidentally killing a peanut-allergic classmate and we sat extra close to the TV to change the channel because there was no remote. I have always said I wouldn't be some crazy helicopter mother, but here I am frantically researching if my newborn brain will be damaged by seeing a little television.
There are so many things to fear these days. Organic food vs. conventional, gluten, BPA , the sun, the air... it's a lot of pressure. It's overwhelming and I think it might be time to take a step back and breathe. Things have changed so much since humans began reproducing, we don't live in caves anymore, we have electricity and technology has advanced significantly. Our children will need technological skills to navigate our world and are essentially born digital. However, they still need face-to-face interaction—it's how our species evolved and is an integral part of our survival skills. But let's be sensible about it.
The AAP screen time recommendation is a great goal, but I also think that from Zero to Three (a non-profit organization focused on infants and toddlers) provides a more sensible and realistic approach for our modern world. Below is a summary of key points from their white paper:
Be thoughtful about how you use media with young children.
Set limits on screen time to be sure that children have plenty of time exploring the real, 3-D world with family and friends.
Participate and make screen use interactive, talking about what children are seeing, and encouraging them to use their minds and bodies as much as possible to maximize learning.
Help children bridge the gap between content they are exposed to on screens—new words and concepts—and their real-life experiences.
Be sure that the content reflects the child's everyday experiences. Ideally, the program or game should engage children interactively.
Avoid having the TV on in the background. Turn the TV off when no one is watching.
Avoid using screens as part of the bedtime routine.
Remove screens from bedrooms to increase quality sleep.
Be mindful of and limit your own screen media use when children are present.
Kids are going to see screens and it's not going to fry their brains, just do your best to limit the time and be aware that your child's first and best teacher is you.