It’s a fact of modern parenting that babies use tablets and phones, but the question remains: are touch screens bad for your baby’s development? Or are phones and tablets actually good for your baby’s growing brain?
How much screen time should kids have?
It won’t surprise parents that too much screen time is not good for children, just as it isn’t good for anybody.
A study by the University of London found that infants and toddlers that used touch screens every day slept less and had a harder time getting to sleep than those who didn’t. Why is this a problem? Because snoozing is one of the most important activities for growing brains. And sleep isn’t all that’s at stake when kids spend too much time looking at screens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that when infants and toddlers watch too much TV they can end up with delayed social development, speech, and reasoning skills. They suggest keeping screen time below half an hour for 0 to 2-year-olds and below an hour for 2 to 5-year-olds. But it’s not all bad news when it comes to kids and screens. For example, shared screen time like FaceTiming a loved one helps babies recognise and imitate faces—a key stage in infant brain development.
And that’s not all phones and tablets are good for.
Smartphones can help with fine motor skills
A 2016 study by the University of London and King’s College, London found that, actually, touchscreens help infants develop their motor skills.
When infants and toddlers learn motor skills, they’re basically learning all the things they can do with their muscles. From opening and closing their hands to stacking blocks to high fiving to, well, interacting with the touchscreen on a phone or tablet.
And here’s the thing, this study says that it’s not touchscreens themselves that aid childhood development: it’s how they are used.
The study authors make a clear distinction between passive screen time, like watching YouTube, and active screen time, like scrolling or playing interactive games. They showed that the earlier a child actively used a touch screen, the earlier they picked up fine motor skills.
It’s so common to be told that screens are wholly bad for early child development, but this study is saying that the picture is more complicated than that. What’s even more interesting is that it says there isn’t much hard evidence proving that smartphones delay childhood development.
The authors are careful to point out that it doesn’t mean that all fears about screen time are ill-founded, just that there’s still lots of scientific work to be done in gathering cold, hard facts before we can write screens off as always bad for kids.
The bottom line? When it comes to fine motor skills, this study tells us that using touchscreens does, in fact, make your child learn faster. The reason for this is simply that scrolling itself is a fine motor skill.
What’s right for your child?
Only you and your medical practitioners can decide what will make you and your child happy and healthy. However, there are some general pointers that we have picked up from our research.
You’re unlikely to do any harm by giving your child a phone every now and then, but it’s best to limit their screen time as much as you can. Aim to keep it below half an hour for 0 to 2-year-olds and below an hour for 2 to 5-year-olds.
Research from the University of London found that kids who used touch screens picked up fine motor skills quicker than kids who didn’t, but only when they were using the touchscreens actively.
Looking for more tech to help your kids learning? Our at homeschooling apps are a great place to start.