Screen Time for Babies: How Bad Is It?

Parents need all the help they can get. We’ve all been there, you need to tend to one of the million tasks at hand in a given day, and offering up screen time is an effective solution. Your little one gets to engage with bright images and loud noises, and you, the parent, can focus on what needs to get done, and everybody is happy.

With so many programs and apps aimed at babies and young children, it can seem harmless to offer up screen time as a reward or a distraction or as simply an activity to pass the time.

But how bad is screen time for babies and toddlers really?

How Much Screen Time Is "Right" for Babies

baby watching tv in lounger

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 92% of 1-year-old children have already used a mobile device, and some began using them as early as 4 months. Another study from the University of Washington states that 40% of 3-month-olds are already watching television. The AAP actually recommends no screen time for children younger than 18 months with the exception of video chatting with friends and loved ones.

The World Health Organization echoes a similar sentiment to the AAP, stating that children under one should not have screen time. The WHO suggests that parents prioritize physical activity and quality time with their children rather than offering them a screen for entertainment or distraction.

The Harm in Screen Time for Babies

Still, even though many doctors don’t recommend screen time, what’s the harm? So it’s not really helping your baby, but is it actually hurting your baby?

Evidence suggests that yes, screen time is actually harmful for your baby. The AAP states that screen time is harmful for babies in multiple ways. A lot of important brain development happens between birth and age two, and screens simply are for the brain what sugar is for the body- addictive and not great for you. Babies learn best from touching, feeling, interacting and playing. They need eye contact and interaction from mom and dad to help learn social cues and understand the world around them. None of these things can be gained from a screen.

Aside from screen time being detrimental to your baby’s brain development, there are several other reasons you might not want your baby engaging with screen time.

Four Negative Side Effects of Screen Time for Babies

  1. Screen time can disrupt your child’s sleep.
  2. Your child may experience social or learning delays because of too much screen time. Studies have shown that screen time use can negatively affect your child’s social cues, attention span and other behaviors that are important as they grow.
  3. Behavior issues can arise from screen time. Sometimes children want to replicate in life what they see on television, which can have negative real-life consequences.
  4. Screen time may lead to weight gain and childhood obesity. Babies should not eat as they watch screens.

Navigating Screen Time and Parenting

Even when you know all the reasons you shouldn’t have your baby using screens, sometimes it is simply inevitable. Sometimes babies watch screens because older siblings do, or they watch television at daycare or with a babysitter. And sometimes, as a parent, you simply need 10 minutes to yourself that you wouldn’t get without a screen to entertain your baby.

Don’t fret if your baby watches screens every now and again. Just like when you eat a candy bar instead of dinner or opt for an extra episode of your favorite show instead of going for a run, life is all about finding a balance. Try to read to your baby daily and spend time talking and engaging with them. Go for walks with your baby and spend time playing at a local park. Finding fun, interactive ways to spend time with your little one will ensure neither one of you feels the need to stare at a screen for any reason.

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