Limiting your baby’s screen time and why it matters.
Screens, like your mobile, Tablet and TV, are a huge part of everyday life. As a parent, it’s not only almost impossible to ignore them completely, but in a world that’s increasingly digital, doing so isn’t the most helpful way we can support our children to navigate their way through the digital landscape they are growing up in.
In the 2023 Ofcom Report ‘Children & Parents; Media and Attitudes’, it revealed that 20% of 3–4-year-olds have their own mobile phones. We’re going to stick our neck out here and say that statistic shocked us. The same report details that 87% of this age group also regularly accessed on-line material (YouTube, social media apps, on-line gaming etc). The report didn’t gather the same data for under 3’s, but it’s reasonable to infer that screen use in the under 3’s is, in the context of child development, worryingly high.
The first 5 years in your baby’s life are so important to their brain development. It’s in these first 5 years that children's brains develop neural connections faster than at any other time in their lives. These neural connections set the foundations for learning, health and behaviour thought their life.
The amount of screen time we allow our children to have during these formative years will, like it or not, impact on their development. But what impact does it have, and why? We’re here to help shed a bit of light on this topic and give you the tools you need to help you decide how much, and what type, of screen time is right you for baby.
So why does screen time mater, and what impact can it have on our baby’s development?
1) Health outcomes
Screens are sedentary. This one is fairly clear- there is much research to suggest that improving physical activity and reducing sedentary time in young children improves their physical and mental health and can help to prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.
Regular screen time replaces other activities that are much more valuable to a child’s development. Children develop and learn best when they are actively engaging in physical and mental activity and challenges. It helps them build working theories about the world around them.
3) Passive process
Watching TV is quite obviously a passive process, but even apps designed for children should be used with caution, urge the Early Years Alliance. Much of the learning value of these apps comes from when they are used alongside active adult engagement. The learning value they provide for our children is relatively low if we’re simply give them the device and leaving them to get on with it. Adults can extend the learning these apps support, by bringing things into the real world, talking about what’s happening on screen etc, and what the learning means.
4) Hijacks attention
TV and apps designed for children are specifically designed to capture and hold your child’s attention for a prolonged period. This usually involves a lot of fast-moving stimuli with lots of colour, sounds and movement. This is all intentional. It keeps children hooked and maintains their attention. But that’s good, isn’t it? Well sort of. The issue with this is that children who access more screen time find it hard to maintain attention on lower stimuli activity e.g., completing jigsaws, drawing, colouring, reading, which are developmentally more enriching and beneficial. It also makes the transition into nursery or pre-school potentially more difficult to navigate.
- Lack of reciprocal human engagement
Babies are hard wired to seek input from their parent or caregiver. This is known as reciprocal human engagement. A case of ‘serve and return’. Screen time traditionally only allows for one away communication. Children who have excessive screen time can lack those social skills needed for building friendships, displaying empathy, and holding conversation, as their experiences are heavily weighted to one-way communication.
How much is too much? And what are the down-time alternatives?
The World Health Organisation recommends that screen time is not recommend at all for children under 2 years of age. For those aged between 2 and 4 years, no more than 1 hour of screen time is recommended, and less is better.
Now we hear you. No screen time at all for under 1’s?! 1 hour for under 4’s?! These experts can’t possibly have kids!
It is really important to acknowledge that parenting is tough, and sometimes you both need some downtime. And sometimes – you have no option but to keep your baby safely engaged and occupied for half an hour, sat happily watching Cocomelon, whilst you make the dinner. That’s not just fine; it’s normal, healthy – and most importantly - it’s real life. If you are concerned that your baby is having too much screen time, the most important thing to consider first is how you’re using screen time, rather than how much of it you’re letting them access.
You’ll find lots of ideas for simple sensory play activities, which are a great alternative to screen time for young babies, on our website here. For older children you can also check out our Snack & Doodle, which combines the benefits of drawing and creative play alongside every toddler’s favourite pastime – snacking! You can learn more about how drawing supports your child’s development on our blog here.