The Impact of Television and digital Devices on Early Child Development

The impact of digital devices and television on early child development is an issue concerning many parents. Just how much time in front of a screen is appropriate for babies and toddlers, and how does this impact on their early development? 

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to turn on the television, to have just a few minutes all to yourself? Baby seems to love it, and sits transfixed, staring at the screen. As mums, we have a chance to do some chores, or even just sit down and read a book or check our phones. This give us time to communicate with the world outside, and escape, just for a little while, from feeds, nappies, and the constant need for attention that our babies crave from us.

What is happening to baby while he is sitting still in front of the TV?

Or, rather, should I say, what is not happening?

Your baby is not moving, not exploring his or her world, or engaging in face-to-face social interactions, which form the foundations for later learning in all its forms – social, emotional, physical, behavioural and academic. 

Authorities such as the World Health Organisation strongly discourage screen time for infants under two years of age. They have issued guidelines recommending zero screen time for infants under 2, and no more of one hour a day of sedentary screen time for children under 4, saying less is better. Why is this?

Natural Stages of Child Development

Development happens in stages, like building blocks. The first three years are vital to your child’s early development in so many ways. Babies early movements build necessary sensory and motor skills as they explore their world, which is the basis for school readiness. Learning and behavioural difficulties, such as dyslexia and ADHD can be linked back to gaps in early development.

For the last 15 years, I have been assessing children who struggle with learning and behavioural difficulties, looking for gaps in their early development.  I have then been offering an individualised 1:1 program to “fill in the gaps” of these missed or incomplete early stages. 

This is done by repeating the early stages of rolling and crawling, gradually moving to balanced upright movements. Along the way, the children are also integrating early sensory skills, such as vision, balance and listening, as well as building trust in relationships and social connection. 

When there are gaps in the early foundations, children often struggle both in school, and socially. As a result, secondary issues such as poor self esteem and frustration often develop. I would much prefer to help parents support their children’s early development, reducing the chance of later problems.

Floor Play and Tummy Time

Watching my granddaughter is an absolute delight, as she instinctively knows what her body needs to do. During floor play and tummy time, she learnt to go from lying on her tummy and lifting her head, to early rolling movements, first tummy to back, then back to her tummy again. At around 6 months she was up on her hands and knees, rocking in preparation for crawling. 

These early movements are the basis of a sense of balance, and help to coordinate balance with vision. These are  essential foundstions for reading readiness.

Importance of Crawling

It has been said that babies need to do 50,000 crawling steps. This seems reasonable, as I watch my granddaughter develop confidence and motor coordination through this process. Crawling helps your baby build important pathways in her brain, develop hand-eye coordination, linking the left and right sides of her body, and brain.  She is also building strength and rhythmic coordination in her limbs and developing self esteem through being able to explore her world.

At around 8 months your baby will start to pull herself up on furniture, building strength in her little legs, getting ready to walk. Before she walks, though, she will cruise around the furniture, slowly building motor and coordination and confidence, in preparation for taking her first independent steps. The confidence and self-esteem that develops through doing this all by herself cannot be underestimated.

Language and Listening

Talking to your baby builds her ability to listen and understand sounds. She began “hearing” the vibrations of your voice before she was born, and her ears are naturally attuned to these sounds. She is also learning to recognise vocal tones, and will know intuitively when you are happy, or if you are feeling stressed. This is not the same as the electronic sounds coming from your TV screen.

Having you by her side helps your baby learn to self-regulate her emotions, knowing you are there to protect her. She will watch your face to see how you are reacting, and will follow your lead. She also needs you to empathise with her when she is struggling, and will recognise these qualities in your voice and your actions. 

Screen time will not teach her this.

Development is Instinctive

All of these stages are important. They happen instinctively and, given the opportunity, your baby will know what to do. She does not need any fancy gadgets or walking equipment, just your support as she explores her world.

I remember how hard it was to come home tired from a day at work, and have to interact with a small child, when all you want to do is to sit down and have a rest. Turning on the TV is a great way to escape. Then there are the chores to do, dinner to prepare… How do we find the time to spend with baby? This time is important to baby, because to our children we are the most important people in their world.

Circle of Security Parenting Program

First time parenting is not always easy, and many parents struggle with finding confidence and developing their ability to “tune in” to baby’s needs. Support is available for parents who are looking for answers. Many have found the Circle of Security parenting classes very helpful.

This is an internationally recognised program designed to help parents build closer relationships with their infants. Sessions are available either in person at my office at Moruya South Head, or online via zoom.

The Good News

The good news is, it’s never too late to change, and it’s OK to seek help if you feel you are struggling.

So, to answer the initial question, “should I let my baby watch TV?”, the answer is up to you, but be aware that the issue is not only about what they are doing, but is just as much about what they are not doing.

About Rosalind

Since 2005 I have been helping children with learning and behavioural challenges such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD and other sensory processing difficulties. I use an holistic, or whole child approach combining counselling with a development movement program, known as The Extra Lesson. This program addresses underlying immaturities in early development that are contributing to their learning and behavioural challenges. Sessions are available both online and in person at Moruya South Head.

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