Baby Development,  Psychology

How much screen time should I allow for my baby/toddler?

This is one of the questions I asked starting infancy, and the answer from my doctor was something that I had to give my own two cents in. I wanted to share my perspective and application of what we do for the twins, in terms of screen time. However, I need to say that I don’t think there is necessarily a correct answer, despite what research might say, because as a tired parent, you do what YOU gotta do to survive.

The answer to every baby question is ALWAYS ALWAYS up to the decision of the parent. I care deeply for not only the health of the babies, but also the emtoional well-being of the parent. I understand, first hand, what it means to get angry and frustrated. When I used to be so caught up with what I should and shouldn’t do, and what I could’ve done, I beat myself up in regret and shame. I was also unkind to my husband and in-laws and wish that I could have reacted less and not so focused on following the rules exactly by the book… all for the sake of the babies. But what about my relationship with others? I realized if I’m not happy, I won’t be happy in how I raise my children and maintaining my relationships with others as well. So make an effort to be open and do what you think is best for your family.

Babies/Toddlers and Screen Time

Per doctor recommendation, babies and toddlers should not be exposed to any screen time until the age of 2. This means do NOT let your child look at your phone. Do NOT let your baby look at a TV screen and do NOT let your baby look at play on an iPad. Babies’ brains are developing and screen time can inhibit the rate of learning.

Well, here’s my confession… oops! it’s already happened for my boys. Can someone please raise their hand, if they really really followed this doctor recommendation? Honestly, I don’t think I know a single family around me who has followed this protocol. ALL the kids I know have been exposed to some sort of TV time before the age of 2 and even know how to navigate through a phone with ease. It’s crazy how fast kids can learn to use a phone… it truly is a “smartphone” that can be easily accessible for ANYONE to use.. even a little baby.

I’m addicted to technology!

We are a technology generation. And as a technology generation, we are addicted to our phones and media sources. It’s what we use to work and also what we use to rest. In my current job as a school psychologist intern, I’m constantly looking at my computer screen to write reports. As a grad student, I complete all my assignments through the online discussion board activities and submitting assignments electronically. Never do I submit something handwritten on paper. At home, when my boys go down for a nap, I always try to get some chores done, but I also have a tendency to turn to my enterntainment sources which include watching shows, scrolling and looking at people’s stories on Instagram, making Amazon purchases, and working on my blog.

Before getting married I didn’t watch too much TV. I had my favorite shows Lost and Heroes that I used to wait every week to air on TV and I would love watching my 1-hour long show. Occassionally, I would get into a Korean drama. But other than that, I wouldn’t watch much of anything. But since living with my husband, it has become a daily routine to watch something after dinner. We love watching movies together at home on the weekends and we like to wind down every night with some Friends on Netflix. It really is enjoyable for us to tune out and watch something together.

It’s all media-generated and I’ve gotta say… though perhaps, I feel guilty for all my personal screen time, I admit that I still love my phone. And I wouldn’t ever opt out for the choice of not having a smartphone. I’m sure everyone living in this media-driven culture will agree with me. I mean, come on, life without media? I don’t think so. (Well, this kind of thinking is why I always feel that I have to fast media every time I decide to do a fast.)

I think it’s only inevitable that babies will be exposed to that addictive blue light screen whether it’s the phone or TV, because it’s just how our culture is. But as with anything, I think the amount of how much you allow is dependent on your personal choice as a parent.

Screen time and psychological affects on child development

If you know me, my outlook is always about psychology. It might be why I can tend to be judgmental sometimes. But in a positive way, it really is my passion. I love learning about a person’s history and trying to learn who they are and why they are who they are. I have learned to be more compassionate and understanding when I hear about how their childhood was like. Each person experiences something unique and different. The type of family makeup and influences or lack of influences of people is essential.

This is just my philosophy, what I believe, and what I have researched, but in a parental perspective, I really believe that who you are as a parent will be reflective upon who your kids choose to be. In child development, it’s the whole nature and nurture aspect where both their genetics and environment will affect their development. What the child sees growing up will affect the decisions that they make and who they choose to be. Babies gain imitation skills and they very much have complex reasoning abilities already. Don’t underestimate the cognitive abilities of your baby, because you would be surprised of how much skillls they have already gained!

If you are watching TV or looking at your phone with or without your baby, your child will pick that up, if they haven’t yet.

Cognitive and emotional development

As previously mentioned, a baby’s brain is developing so much within the first two years! All the attention proccessing abiltiies, memory abilities, information processing skills, communication and langauge skills, play and social skills, application of learned skills, are all being formed and maturing with each play opportunity. School psychologists can identify any deficits in these cognitive areas, and with a team of educators, we may find a need to develop a plan to support students who may lack skills in any of those areas. However, I think we can help shape these skills at any age, even in infancy!

I love teaching my boys new things and allowing them to solve their own problems and learn from their mistakes. When they start whining or crying about something that went wrong, I first allow them to be sad about their fall or dispute with each other. Sometimes, they get over it on their own and move on. But other times, they feel distressed and that’s when I decide that they might need a mother’s comfort. Others might see this as “tough love” but I see it as an opportunity to be independent and learn something valuable.

In addition to cognitive abiltiies, your baby develops socially and emotionally with attachment to you as the parent and siblings that they play with as well. In our family, our boys are best friends and love to imitate one another and us. Sometimes, they fight and take out their frustration by biting or hitting each other. I gotta make sure to intervene before this happens. I usually feel guilty that I wasn’t paying more close attention. But I try to be positive and look at it as an opportunity to teach how to be kind to one another and play cooperatively with one another, since I want to continue to promote a socially and emotionally friendly environment.

I can see why doctors are recommending to limit screen time to NOTHING until age 2, because TV truly limits a baby’s access to grow in these developmental areas. With TV, a baby doesn’t interact with anyone because their attention and focus is on the screen. Perhaps their ability to sustain attention may increase with the screen, but it may be difficult to carry that attention sustainability skill in other unstructured play activities. It really limits their ability to get creative and learn spontaneously. Similarly to adults, a baby will tune out from the world when watching TV. Their brain is not making as many connections, and it’s why we decided that we would really try to limit TV as much as possible at this stage. But I think it’s so much more fun to get busy in a play environment anyways!

But even with all these warnings about no screen time for baby, I don’t deny that we occasionally allow some screen time in the week.

Positive benefits of TV

As a new mom, you have this hope and expectation that you will not become a iPad mom. I personally don’t find significant danger as long as you truly are limiting the TV watching and making phone time interactive, which is why I allow it once a week for 15-30 minutes.

TV as a tool: clipping nails

For us, currently, I use TV once a week as a tool to get them to sit still for nail clipping day. While a lot of people recommended that I cut them while they’re sleeping, I just prefer not to wake them up and pull them out of their crib just so I can cut their nails. It’s just a personal preference, and I always clipped the boys’ nails while they were wide awake and alert since they were newborns.

I remember I would need to clip their nails every few days when they were infants, but since they got a bit older, I clip them just once a week. It’s when they began becoming more opinionated and on the move that I began incorportating TV time. That day of the week is when they get to watch 15-30 minutes of TV (that’s how much exposure they get every week), depending on how long it takes and whether I feel that both their fingernails and toenails need to be clipped. Owen usually is super quick, because he’s so into the show that clipping nails is really easy. Now Wyatt, although he might be distracted by the TV for a short time, he quickly remembers the discomfort when I clip his nails and it takes some time to get the job done. Still, I find that TV is really helpful when I need to clip their nails. It’d definitely be harder to get them to sit still when playing with a toy rather than watching TV.

TV as a tool: educational benefit

Honestly, I have learned a lot of stuff myself watching kids’ shows! I probably should sing more songs to my boys, but they just get exposed to same old made up songs that I sing or the same old songs that I know in my nursery rhyme repertoire, which isn’t too much, other than ABC song, itsy bitsy spider, and Mary had a little lamb. Okay, maybe there’s other stuff too, but when you turn on the baby song show on Netflix or turn on one of those 1 hour long Youtube videos on nonstop nursery songs, we all learn more songs. Now, I also sing, the wheels on the bus, baa baa black sheep, VBS songs, and lots of Veggie tales songs as well.

My boys love Baby Einstein as well. It’s about a 30-minute show on YouTube, and it’s probably their favorite. There are different kinds like Mozart and Farm-themed. If you look it up, it looks a bit mindless, because it’s just toys being played or short clips of animals or a little puppet that shows up and there is no spoken language. However, I think it’s pretty great in teaching cause-and-effect and exposing them to see all the different animals. I end up narrating it sometimes, which could be more beneficial when I label the different things that come up in the show.

Video-calling grandma and grandpa

Our boys have grandparents who live in Turkey and Korea. Unfortunately, we maintain a long distance relationship with them. But I do hope that they will know who their grandparents are by occassionally video-calling them few times within the month. In this situation, media is absolutely essential! I allow them to stare at that little screen as much so that they can say hello to their grandparents!

I also send them all the photos and videos that I take of them daily. I really have thousands of photos of the twins by now. haha but I’m so thankful for media, which allows me to share them on instagram and with our families.

Get out there and play!

Still, I think the best kind of play is not screen time, but unstructured play at this baby/toddler stage!

With the boys on the move and with their increased curiosity for the world, I have been making an effort to get them out of the house at least once a day. Whether it’s meeting some friends, getting lunch, or running errands, they love looking around outside on the car drive out and getting their feet on the ground and exploring. They experience different textures by getting their feet on unleveled ground in the grass or touching flowers and leaves and dirt. I’m thinking that it also helps them to ease up to novel situations with every opportunity. My boys still usually freeze up in an unfamiliar environment and unfamiliar people, but eventually they start exploring after a bit of looking around.

Owen especially loves to point at things and communicate to me where he wants to go. Since I’ll be home more often, I’ve been thinking to get them enrolled in some sort of summer class for babies and toddlers or take them to special community outings like the library, park, or zoo and give them more opportunities to learn and explore. Even going out on a simple walk around our neighborhood, the boys get so stoked for that.

But as a twin mom (or for any parent of multiple children), it’s not that easy to leave the house. It will always take some courage and extra effort on my part to get the bag packed and stacked with snackies and diapers to keep the boys happy. I also need to be emotionally ready because I have a tendency to get frustrated when things don’t go as planned, and rarely they do… Plus, these little toddlers want to be on the move, so it’s me versus two. Most of the time, my boys like to follow each other and play together. But sometimes, it’s not as easy when they want to go in different directions. It’ definitely a great challenge every time we go out, but I also do think it’s worth it to go out because the boys are learning and growing and so happy when they do. And they also nap so well, when we come back.

Always trust yourself as a parent

I’m sure other parents use media for different purposes and for different occasions. My encouragement is that you can still try to promote learning and get those little brains stimulated with unstructured play, because those little brains actually aren’t so little! Your babies are growing and learning so many things everyday!

I just wanted to share how we use technology in our family. Obviously, it would be considered unhealthy since I do expose the boys to TV weekly, when they shouldn’t be getting any screen time until 2-years-old. But in my personal opinion, at least a little bit is okay. Remember to always do what works for your household and be confident about it! The most important thing is that your child is healthy!

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6 Comments

  • ladylyrik303

    I Love this! “Trust yourself as a parent” that is huge! I started asking this question very early on in my children’s live also. Because we are raising our children in the technology era. Everything is online or on a digital device. My oldest son, who is 6 now, is addicted to technology and would spend 200% of his time online if we’d allow him. Plus the obvious issue with my teenage daughter & her phone. We learned early on the benefits and disadvantaged of technology and then we felt the pressure of other parents and psychological professionals to limit their access to an hour a day. That’s harder than it sounds. So we had to really design a strategy that applied to OUR family. I’m addicted to technology too, by the way. Especially running a blog and online business. We don’t pay much attention to what everyone else is doing, but, more allow in moderation device time each day. We’ve had to do a technology detox which lasted 30 days and then we were able to step into a better routine each day. When online there are only specific things each kid by age can do. We, as parents, model similar behaviors too. Having a plan is helpful. Thanks for sharing your view on this I found it helpful!

    • mamaesroh

      Thanks so much for your comment! I have no idea how much more screen time I would allow when my boys turn 6 or teenagers or even 6 months from now, but love your input as well! Thank you! A 30 day detox sounds extremely hard to be honest, but I respect you guys for doing it!

  • Erika Irwin

    I don’t have any little ones yet but I love your view on this! I totally agree with following your gut as a parent. The most important thing is to interact with your children and love them!

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