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CyberSafe Parent Week: How much screen time is appropriate for babies and toddlers?

CyberSafe Parent

Like most babies these days, 7 month old Ivy Mitchell knows her way around a screen.  “Ivy’s been interested in screens because I’ve been Facetiming my parents since she was born so she’s very familiar with it,” says mom Tiffany of Farmington.

She’s not alone.  According to Common Sense Media, children from birth to 23 months old spend an average of 42 minutes with screens a day.  “I struggle with, do I not have it around her at all?  Is that realistic?” says Mitchell.

“The average age of regular use of screens in the 1970s was 4 years old, now it’s up to 4 months.  So that’s a drastic drastic change,” says early childhood specialist Cora Megan, director of The Nest at Alphabet Academy in Hamden and a contributor to the Peace at Home Parenting Solutions network.  She cites the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics: avoid all screen media for babies and toddlers from borth through 18 months.  That means no phones, tablets, TVs or computers.  It’s news that surprises Tiffany Mitchell.  “It does because it’s so hard to avoid it, it’s part of our daily lives,” she says.

Experts say screens get in the way of day-to-day interactions between parent and child…and they also give a child less of an opportunity to have self-directed play where they can be creative and practice cognitive skills.

But, what if parents need a break?  Megan says, moms and dads deserve one but that doesn’t have to mean screen time for the child.  “I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as parents and caregivers that we need to be entertaining a child at all times,” she says, noting that parents can put the small child in a safe space like an infant chair or play pen.  “Where they can look at this huge world and say, ‘What is that thing I’ve never noticed before?’ and work through their own discomfort and start self-regulating, self-soothing a little more.”

And, when you introduce screens, at age two or so, pay attention to what the child is watching.  “From what research shows, high quality programming is interactive, like Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues where they’re talking to the child,” says Megan.

For Mitchell, it’s all about finding balance for Ivy.  “Exposing her to enough – because it’s the future where things are going – but making sure she likes to read books and is going out to play outside.”

An effort to stay well-rounded in an increasingly flat world.

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