Chances are, your baby is growing up surrounded by tech. According to Common Sense Media, nearly a third of babies play with mobile devices regularly; screens now outnumber people in the average American home. In recognition of this reality, last year the American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated set of guidelines for babies’ interactions with digital media, after years of a staunch no-screens-under-2 stance. While the new guidelines don’t usher in a screen-time-free-for-all, they do reflect the fact that screens are all but impossible to avoid, and that digital media can offer learning value to the very young. Here’s how to capture the best of digital tech, so your baby can thrive in the real world.
Create connection: For children under 18 months, the AAP maintains that no screen time is ideal. But babies can benefit from digital media that encourages two-way-communication, like Skype, FaceTime and other video chat applications. As babies glean the vital building blocks of language, viewing someone speaking provides vital information about how words are formed, which is why disembodied voice-overs common in many “educational” videos aimed at babies offer limited learning value. So strike up a Skype chat with Grandma or FaceTime a working parent on a break for a tech-based babble session that benefits everyone.
Watch together: If your baby watches any media programming, prioritize co-viewing. Verbally explaining what you’re seeing provides essential context that helps build your baby’s brain. If your baby is watching a car driving down a freeway, explain that the car looks like yours and ask where the car might be going (even though your 10-month-old won’t provide a decipherable answer). Narrating content and asking questions adds to your child’s understanding of the world.
Tech tunes: Watching media isn’t the only way to use it: Your baby can enjoy the benefits of technology without laying eyes on a screen. Create a baby-friendly playlist on Pandora or Spotify to provide background tunes for baby’s next tummy time, bath or block-building session.
Speed read: Your baby likely loves story time, but you can’t page through a book while you’re stuck in the carpool lane. Audiobooks, available digitally through most library systems or via apps like Audible, can provide narrative for longer car trips and provide relief from endless renditions of “Itsy bitsy spider.” Though your baby may be too young to grasp every plot detail, listening to spoken words helps lay the groundwork for verbal fluency down the road.
Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."