Infants and Technology: How much and when?
I don’t believe there is a baby in the developed world that doesn’t enjoy the telephone. Whether it’s old-school, tethered to the wall, or the latest smartphone, children just seem to KNOW that there is something special about that real phone.
Since smartphones are durable and multi-functional, it is possible to let a baby handle it like a toy, especially if you get caught in some waiting room or restaurant with a restless baby in your arms. And that’s what 48% of all mothers with children under the age of 2 actually do. In a Baby Center survey of American moms, the most frequently reported age for letting baby play with the smartphone or tablet was between the ages of 1-2.
Are there issues to consider if you let your baby engage with technology? Unless you believe a screen, in and of itself, is harmful, you can be very practical about making your decision. Think of three buckets:
- First is the CONTRIBUTION bucket. What do you expect to get from the technology you use? Some amusement for baby while you perform a few tasks in the same room? A learning experience in addition to what you provide directly? Something you and baby can do together? Having a product based on technology doesn’t automatically give it the value you seek. And no matter what, the on-screen contribution should be an extra, not a substitute for the direct contact you provide to your baby.
- Next is the CONTENT bucket. Technology is a delivery system for content, so what kind of content do you want? Does it make together time with baby even better? Does it provide a “magical” experience that’s possible only on-screen? Infant and preschool apps are diverse and plentiful; and since many are free or under $5, you can test run the content yourself. Track online reviews and go to Common Sense Media or Children’s Technology Review for evaluations.
- Last is the CONTEXT bucket. Where will you and baby be and how will you use the technology? Through extensive research we know that very young children learn faster and more deeply through direct interaction with their parents. We know that running visual media in the background while a child is trying to concentrate on some other activity negatively affects attention. We also know that young children enjoy interacting with screen content and especially enjoy manipulating and mastering the devices that deliver the content, especially as their motor skills advance. Maturation and parental assistance enable these skills.
When you line up these three buckets side by side you may still have a lot of questions. But you will feel confident about one thing. You’ve considered the amount, quality, purpose and usage of technology in your child’s life. What you do and when, is not a matter of what others say or do, but an exercise of your best judgment relative to your values. It’s a decision that is only yours to make.