Screens are well and truly part of our lives. They’re a great way for us to communicate, learn and be entertained, and the bright lights and dazzling colours are irresistible to babies. Smartphone and tablet use by babies is a relatively new thing, so there isn’t a huge amount of research into it yet.
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With babies as young as six months using smartphones, it’s clear that this is a hot topic and it’s understandable if you have concerns about your baby. Screen time has some negative effects for anyone, especially children, but what about when it's used in a controlled and positive way? We’ve looked at what the current research says about babies, screen time and development, to create a guide on how to introduce screens to them (because, let’s face it, screens are going to enter their lives at some point so we might as well make it as positive as possible!).
Schedule baby screen time in
How much time should you allow your little one to spend using screens? Some bodies recommend less than an hour. But the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health believe there’s no clear time limit, and instead they talk about the importance of using screens in a positive way and not letting them interfere with anything else. A great way to do this is to schedule in a bit of screen time each day so that they don’t get drawn into spending hours with their eyes glued to a smartphone or tablet, but they also don’t feel as though they’re missing out.
The easiest way to look at this is by starting with all the things they should be doing. For their health and development, it’s important that they’re getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as learning, playing and bonding time. Once you take that away from their day, there really isn’t much time left for screen time!
Their development comes first (although it can be tricky to tell how they’re coming along as babies are all so unique!). Check out our series of blog posts on baby’s development for more on this:
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Use screens for learning and development
As busy parents with endless lists of things to do, it’s so tempting to hand over a smartphone or tablet to our kids to keep them quiet for a bit. But this kind of passive screen watching is why you probably hear about screens being bad for children. It can lead to alarming newspaper headlines, but it’s important to remember that there still isn’t much research in this area.
So how can screens be used for development for your baby? Screen time doesn't always mean just staring at films or scrolling through social media - there are loads of fun educational games and videos all over the internet. Try CBeebies, Happy Clicks or Owlie Boo. Keeping their minds active and having them get involved with their hands may have a positive effect on their development. Research has found that it can help with their fine motor skills!
Use it as bonding time
This could be a great way to introduce screens to them, especially if you want a bit more control over what they do and see. Play games with them, watch videos, read, learn their ABCs, etc. And maybe when they’re a bit older, get moving around with them (things like Cosmic Kids yoga). You could also use video chat so that they can meet friends and family from far off places - so sweet.
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Switch on child locks
If you haven’t got one already, you’ll probably want to put a pin on your phone (not only is this useful for keeping little hands out, but helps if you lose your phone or have it stolen). But did you know, you can actually lock whatever’s on the screen, meaning your little one can’t go onto any other app (i.e. you can put on a fun alphabet video without them sending a load of random emojis to your friends on Whatsapp).
You’ll also probably want to set up parental controls to make sure their screen time is baby-friendly, and they’re not seeing content made for adult eyes. It depends on the types of things they’re doing on there, but you are able to set up parental controls for entire devices, games consoles, etc. Or you can focus on individual apps. For example, you can set up controls on YouTube or opt for YouTube Kids, set up controls on Netflix, turn on Google SafeSearch, etc. Alternatively, you could let a clever piece of tech do it all for you – welcome to the future!
Generally, you probably won’t need any of these for babies, but it’s important to keep it in mind as they grow. Check out the UK Safer Internet Centre for more.
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Switch off early
Ever sit staring at your phone in the evening and then can’t get your brain to switch off and fall asleep? This could be because blue light is disturbing you. Yes, the light from screens can actually have an effect on our sleep – and this is exactly the same for children.
To stop their brains buzzing well into their sleep time, Sleep Foundation advise switching off devices an hour or two before bed, and the RCPCH recommend an hour. You could also try making the bedroom a ‘screen free zone’ so they don’t get into the habit of using them before bed in the future!
It’s easily done, but leaving screens on in the background while kids are doing other things can be distracting. This will generally be televisions, but goes for smartphones and tablets too. If the house is feeling quiet, try playing some music, so that there are no bright lights to take your little one away from learning, eating or whatever they’re doing.
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Be mindful of your own screen use
You may have noticed that babies are very good at the imitation game. You’re their world, and they’re learning pretty much everything from you, so it’s very likely that they’ll pick up lots of traits and habits from you. One of these might actually be the way you use smartphones and tablets.
One study concluded that “Parent screen time is the strongest predictor of child screen time.” And paediatricians are recommending that parents have screen time limits too! Of course, you’re an adult, and we don’t want to preach – plenty of us are guilty of spending a little too much time scrolling through the latest #FridayFeeling posts – but could you be the first step in inspiring your children to spend less time looking at screens and more time learning, playing and exploring?
As research grows, we'll continue to update you on the recommendations for screen time. We’d love to hear if you’ve got any more handy ideas for introducing screens to children or keeping them safer on the internet. Let us know!