In the first two years of his or her life, your baby’s brain goes through some mighty extraordinary growth.
Unlike any other time in their life, your baby's brain triples in size.
As you could imagine, what your baby is exposed to, as well as if your baby receives too little or too much stimulation, is going to lay the foundations for the rest of your baby’s life.
In the below video, paediatrician, researcher and father Dimitri Christakis presents a scan of the normal brain of a child verses the brain of a child from a Romanian orphanage. Obviously these children have been shown very little love or stimulation.
Seeing the massive difference between the brain scans made him think: if too little stimulation can result in so many inactive areas in the brain, then what about too much stimulation? Can too much stimulation result in hyped up activity in the brain, resulting in just as damaging changes?
Doctor Christakis is the Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior & Development in Seattle. He has a sobering message about overstimulating your baby or toddler’s brain with screen time.
In fact, he found the more television children watched before the age of three, the more likely they were to have attention problems at school compared to those who watched none.
For every hour of television watched per day, children were 10% more likely to have attention problems. For example, two hours of television per day would equate to being 20% more at risk of attention problems.
Not only is the amount of television important, but what they are watching. Would it shock you to know that even some of the ‘Baby Einstein’ type of programs (especially designed for babies!) are actually not well designed for your baby’s brain at all?
Find out why, and discover more of his sobering findings in the video below, as well as how you can reduce the incidence of attention problems in your children.
It's Not Just About Babies And Toddlers
In an article on Psychology Today, Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages The Brain, child psychiatrist Victoria L. Dunckley MD writes:
“As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention—much like the description in the quote above describing damage seen in scans.”
We're currently experiencing something very new, unlike ever before. How bad do things need to get before we pay attention to what's going on? Over time, an increasing number of screens has encroached into our lives, like a drip feeder. So we haven't suddenly noticed it. Something that is certain – we need to make sure we lead by example as parents. It's so very easy to get sucked into screens, even as adults. How can a child's brain do that for themselves when their brains aren't developed enough to have the “brakes” to do so? They don't understand how to stop.
It's Not A Judgement On Your Parenting
Please do not take this research as a judgement on your parenting. Research is always about learning new ways, so we can do better and achieve better outcomes. We all do what we can to get by. But armed with more information and knowledge, we can make more informed choices. We need to know this information if we are ever going to make a difference.
When we know better, we do better.
What About iPads and Other Educational Devices?
Dr. Christakis says that even in younger children, a small amount of time spent on interactive development apps are okay – it's the passive television watching that is the problem. He suggested kids younger than 2 may even benefit from 30 minutes to 60 minutes per day of interactive screen time.
In an article for Today, Dr. Christakis was quoted as saying, “interactive iPad and device apps that engage a baby may be as mentally stimulating as old-fashioned toys such as blocks or even a See ‘N’ Say, which allows kids to develop a sense of accomplishment by matching animal images and sounds.”
However, parents must still be vigilant and closely monitor time spent on such devices, as there were still problems such as “compulsive use of iPads” among the youngest users.
But as Christakis says, the bigger problem is the passive television viewing (or videos or DVDs aimed at babies), which is known to have detrimental effects on cognition – which can be overstimulating and potentially harmful.
So, What Are You Waiting For?
Time to get those babies and toddlers outdoors much more. Switch off televisions and get little developing brains outdoors to play – which also reduces the risks of obesity, supports the immune system (vitamin D and exercise) and helps children to learn and socialise with others. Join play or activity groups, like baby music, swimming or gym classes.
By making positive choices for a generation of children being born into technology, we can help make their future a brighter one by making better choices for playtime activities. We can't predict what it might be like for them in the future, but we can help prevent major problems from having a launch pad.
Can you imagine our kids growing into adults who have problems disconnecting from technology and connecting with each other? What if disconnection became the norm? How will the human species cope without connection and love?
Let's make a difference, together.
Recommended Reading: For some fun ideas, see our article 17 Activities Your Toddler Will Love and 9 Things To Do When Your Toddler Is Driving You Nuts.