Screentime for Babies

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Screentime for Babies

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Screen Time for Babies

As a new parent, if the idea of plopping your fussy baby in front of a TV doesn’t cross your mind, you may need to check your pulse. You aren’t the first parent at the end of a long day or at the first light of dawn to wonder if your little one can’t handle just a little screen time to give you a chance to shower or eat in peace or just, PLEASE I’LL DO ANYTHING, sleep for 5 more minutes.

But you also aren’t the first parent to wonder how screen time, even just a bit of screen time, will impact your baby’s development. Experts and articles and blogs can leave parents throwing up their hands and unsure of what to do about TVs, iPhones and tablets.

There are plenty of the screen time critics in the US and globally, and they’re vocal. For the past nearly 20 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has promoted a zero tolerance rule for any screen time until a baby turns two (now 18 months). No TV, IPads, or phone period (yes, Dad, that would mean not even watching the game while holding your baby).

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The AAP’s zero tolerance rule was first driven by the popularity of Baby Einstein videos in the 90’s, and research finding that they were actually detrimental to a baby’s learning. The research was later debunked.

The vast majority of new parents – nearly 90% - ignored the policy and discovered that screen time distracted and calmed a fussy baby. A 2011 study found that 47% of babies under 2 watch up 2 hours of TV daily, and 30% had TV’s in their room.  

Most parents and experts agree that too much screen time, in the form of hours each day, doesn’t do your little one any favors. But many parents have found an abstinence-only approach to screen time to be impractical, unworkable, and often counterproductive.

One former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on screen wrote in a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “we can no longer afford to guide children’s media use based on our values and opinions. Evidence based decision-making… must be brought to bear. In our zeal to advocate for children, we have largely ignored the positive effects of using media, mismanaged the public discourse, and lost the ear of many whom we serve.”

Time Magazine summed it up well: “parents, calm down about infants screen time.”

For starters, brief amounts of screen time can be useful in distracting and resetting a fussy episode. A few minutes of TV can help calm your baby when nothing else seems to be working.

Depending on whether you have other kids in the house, two working parents, a sick kid, or other responsibilities – a limited and strategic bit of screen time can keep you on the good side of sanity when you’re at your wits end and need a few minutes to get dinner on the table.

Digital content can also be a convenient way to introduce all kinds of things that you can’t recreate at home: dance, music, the sights and sounds of animals. In fact, small amounts of screen time boost the cognitive development of your baby, according to one study.

Strategies For Limiting Screen Time For The First Year

So where does this leave you? Most veteran parents and child development experts agree that the key to constructive screen time is the way in which you use it.

Some tips from veteran Dads:

  • DO: Avoid stressing too much about avoiding any and every screen in the presence of your baby.
    • The no-screen-time rule, for many parents, isn’t a realistic approach to parenting in most homes today. Plus, it can be a fun “treat” for your baby to learn about things they can’t experience in ‘real life’, and to connect with family and friends afar.
  • DO: Use digital content as a tool to engage your baby.
    • As often as possible, consider ways that you can interact with your little one while watching digital content. Point to, and name, things you see on the screen. Mimic songs and actions together. Tell your baby what they’re seeing on screen.
  • DON’T: Use your TV or iPad as your go-to crutch.
    • A few minutes of screen time, from time to time, can keep your sanity after a long day, and give you or your partner a much-needed moment to grab a snack or change clothes. But avoid relying on too much screen time, which can create conflict when it’s time to click ‘off’.
  • DON’T: Initiate screen time when your little one is sleepy.
    • It can be tempting at the end of the day, but many parents find disengaging from the screen when your baby is tired can lead to more tears and tantrums.
  • DO: Consider books as an alternativeto screen time.
    • It’s actually easy to forget this when your little one can’t speak. But the words and interactions with your baby are priceless while reading. And certainly doesn’t only have to be only for bedtime!

How much is too much?

You’re the parent, so you get to decide! If your baby is asking for TV time regularly, or screen time is becoming a source of conflict, then you probably have reached the limit.

If you are ready to introduce a bit of screen time, start with 10-15 minute segments. It’s long enough to keep your baby engaged, but probably not so long that you’ll induce crying when it’s time to shut off.

In fact, it turns out that the author of the no-screen-time recommendation from the AAP said his concern was mostly centered around passive screen time. In other words, his concern was using the TV or iPad as a babysitter.

Practical Ways To Effectively Use Screen Time

It’s hard to keep track! By the time you’re reading this, there will already be a dozen new apps and videos that would be great for your baby. Other new parents have probably run across new digital tools that are great for your little one, so ask around.

A few ideas that you might consider:

  • FACETIME/SKYPE: Try using video streaming services to connect with family and friends afar! Your baby will get to engage with real people, and your family and friends will love seeing your baby smile and babble. Take a screen shot to remember those chats!
  • SNAPCHAT:Whether you’re a power user, or see it as a silly app for tweens, Snapchat is a fun way to introduce (limited) screen time to your child. The front facing camera will act as a mirror, allowing your child to see the two of you together. The filters are an added bonus, as you can mortify mom with all the silly characters you turn your baby into.
  • ACTION VIDEOS: Look for videos that give your baby a chance to mimic sounds and actions they see on screen.
  • FIND QULITY KID-CENTERED VIDEOS (that you yourself can stomach too): Focus your kids screen time on programming designed for kids. Experts have found that plopping your kid in front of the TV to watch your favorite Netflix show won’t do much for them, and will likely leave them bored and fussy. It’s not worth it.
  • EXPERIMENT: Try soothing animated videos, try live-action videos, try nature videos. See what keeps you and your baby engaged together and learning.

One final self-care note:Consider how you personally are using screen time as well. There are many days, and many times throughout the day, when you will find yourself wanting to check out for a few minutes on your phone, or watch the TV in the background. If you decide you want to cut back, you might explore ‘compartmentalizing’ your own screen time. Keep your phone in a separate room, rather than your pocket, so you’re not as tempted to check Facebook and Instagram when you’re caring for your baby. (This Dad plugs his phone into the charger as soon as he gets home from work. It serves two purposes: gets his phone charged for after-bedtime scrolling when he needs a few minutes to zone out, and also avoids using the phone when hanging out with the kids).


We all need the escape that our phones offer, especially in the early and highly stressful months of parenting, but setting some simple boundaries for yourself will help keep you engaged when you want to be, and accessing your phone during the time you’ve carved out for scrolling.


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