Nearly every household has one or more phones, tablets or computers. Sooner or later a baby is going to notice these and become entranced by the screen. And nearly every house or flat has at least one TV.
Also, there are apps and programs that are heavily marketed as being good for children’s development, language and learning. And many parents at some point will have been glad of the way a screen can calm a baby and give the adult a rest.
We are not going to say screens are bad! It all depends on how they are used, and how much they are used.
The one exception is bedtime. The blue light from screens can make it hard for children (and adults) to go to sleep, or stay asleep, so we recommend no screen use in your bedtime routine
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What is the best advice about screens?
The basic principle is this: babies are wired to learn best from interacting with adults, and from doing things in 3 dimensional space (the real world).
So a baby won’t gain much from playing alone with a tablet or phone, or watching TV by themselves – no matter how clever or well-marketed the app. There is not a lot of evidence that screen use is damaging (with one exception – see bedtime, below). But if a baby or toddler is on the screen or TV a lot, they are missing opportunities for developing and learning.
Our advice, then, is to reflect on how much time a baby is alone with a screen – and whether there are ways you could make this more beneficial by getting interactive with them.
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What are tablets and phones really good for?
Some experts disagree, but we think there are three or four things that are great about tablets – less so for phones, as the screens might be too small for a baby to see properly:
- using Skype or Facetime or similar to chat with long-distance grandparents, parents who are away, family members, etc. Your baby might need a bit of help to take part and understand what is happening at first
- taking and using pictures to make up and tell simple stories for your baby. Or to look at special people together
- snuggling up close when using a tablet – they are small and light, so great for this. Do be careful in case your baby grabs it, though!
- recording baby’s voice and playing it back. Click here for more on this.
What about watching TV?
Your baby will not be able to make much sense of TV programmes until at least 18 months. You may find your baby enjoys “watching TV”, but what they are enjoying is the changing colours and sounds.
No matter what adverts say, watching television has no benefit for babies.
What your baby does benefit from is being with you and chatting. In fact, for toddlers, some research shows a benefit to watching TV while talking about it with an adult.
So there is no harm in your baby “seeing” the TV if you have other children who are watching, but too much time with the TV alone is a lost opportunity.
Try not to use the TV as a babysitter – or not for too long.
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Using apps with your child
Here are some ideas to make the best use of apps:
- whatever else you do, make the experience interactive – your active presence is crucial
- make sure that the content is appropriate to age – even if the baby does not understand what is going on, they will pick up on tone and emotions. Switch off internet access if you can to prevent distraction (of you!) and inappropriate ads popping up
- get good at using the app yourself first – this makes it much less frustrating, and also means you can concentrate on interacting with your baby
- make sure that apps are not the only things you are doing together. If it takes over the whole time, you will both miss out on talking and playing – the best ways to build bonds and brains