The Screen Time Rules Most Parents Are Breaking


Toddlers are captivated by digital devices, but even a little time playing with one can be harmful (photo: iStock)

Tweens and teens aren’t the only kids experts say spend too much time on their phones and tablets. A new survey found that babies as young as six months old were also racking up significant screen time, tapping and watching mobile devices before they could even talk and walk.

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The survey, completed by 370 parents, produced eye-opening results. Before age one, 36 percent of babies had touched or scrolled a screen, while 24 percent called someone and 52 percent watched TV. The study was presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

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Fifteen percent of kids under a year old used apps, as reported by the parents surveyed, and 12 percent played video games. While some six month olds looked at a screen for 30 minutes a day, by their first birthday, one in seven toddlers were on mobile media for at least an hour a day.

At the two-year mark, the majority of toddlers were using phones, laptops, and other gadgets, and 26 percent of them were facing screens for at least one hour daily.

“We wanted to do the study because everywhere you go, you see parents with kids looking at screens on phones and tablets,” lead author Hilda Kabali, M.D., a third-year resident in pediatrics department at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But I wasn’t expecting to find out that so many kids younger than age one were using them.”

Of course, it’s not like babies are turning on Candy Crush all on their own. Moms and dads have to access the screen for them, and the study sought to find out why: 73 percent of parents said they allowed it while they were doing chores, while 65 percent said they used screens to calm a kid, and 29 percent copped to relying on them to ease a child to sleep.

As tempting as it is to soothe a crying baby by letting him swipe, it’s not what pediatric specialists advise. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions that kids under two should not be exposed to any screens, and after that, it should be limited to two hours a day.

What’s the danger? It’s not that the screens themselves are harmful, but the exposure tends to come at the expense of face-to-face interaction between parents and kids. Without regular face time, babies may be more prone to developmental delays and form a less secure bond with mom and dad.

“We know that even when a TV is on in the background, even if no one is watching it, parents and children interact with each other less,” Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., director of Pediatric Behavioral Health Services at Montefiore Medical Group in New York, tells Yahoo Parenting.

“Interaction, even if it’s just coos and smiles, encourages proper brain development and helps foster a secure attachment to parents,” she adds.

Sharon Silver, founder of Proactive Parenting, agrees. “If parents use technology to pacify their children when they are young, they’re replacing the human contact and modeling needed to produce empathy, compassion, connection, and sense of belonging to the larger world we all live in,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.

No surprise, then, that experts encourage parents to turn off their devices when their kids are with them — even if it means waiting to watch that viral cat video.

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