We all know that the use of screens at work can have an effect on our well-being, the Health & Safety Executive even has recommendations for a 5-10 minute break for every hour of screen use and if your job involves regular use of screens they are even obliged to pay for an eye test. So why do we give them to our children, and even worse, our babies?
In my book, Babyopathy - baby care the natural way, I demonstrate the difference between sensory stimulation which babies need to support brain development and sensory overstimulation which can have a negative impact on:
• Brain development
• Mental wellbeing
Although a baby's nervous system is one of the first things to develop at two to three weeks after conception, it is one of the last to reach complete maturity. A newborn baby is therefore born with an immature nervous system and so reacts quickly to sensory stimulation and can easily become over stimulated. This response to stimulation continues to develop throughout the crucial first year of brain development and so it is vital that babies are not over stimulated.
I am seriously concerned at the growing trend to use television programmes, DVD based 'learning' programmes such as Baby Einstein and even worse a phone or a tablet to 'keep them entertained'. First of all, Einstein didn't grown up to be a genius by watching a screen - he explored, he imagined and he wondered.
The Council on Communication and Media at the American Academy of Paediatrics have just released new recommendations of NO screen time for babies under 18 months old and only 1 hour per day for children 2 - 5 years.
Use of screens, particularly in babies under one year can:
• Displace sleep patterns
• Have a detrimental effect on social interaction
• Disrupt the development of play
• Potentially lead to developmental regression
So, why does the childcare regulatory body, Ofsted, require it to be a part of their Early Years Foundation Stage, especially when many countries have banned their use for children. It should not be a requirement for the under 5's age group at all. Any screen time should be at the discretion of the parents or if used in a setting, only as an occasional activity.
We wonder why we are seeing such an increase in behavioural issues, why children are unable to play independently or co-operatively, why many children have disturbed sleep patterns, why there is an increase in obesity and mental health concerns in the under 5's. Are you not also seriously concerned by these points?
So, what can you do?
1. NO screen time. OK, I know this one is obvious but it really is important that babies under 2 years should not use screens at all
2. Get out in nature. I really can't stress this one enough, the benefits of being in and playing in nature extend to your baby too.
3. You are best for your baby. Your baby doesn't need a screen to develop, your baby needs you. Interact with your baby, read them stories and talk to them
4. Make your baby part of your day. This one is simple, your baby will actually learn so much more and develop excellent social skills if you encompass them in to your routines instead of giving them a screen to entertain them. By actively taking part in your dinner time routine for example they will follow your lead in behaviour, they will copy your conversation and won't be continually trying to get your attention
5. Classes for babies under one are a good source of developmental activities but beware of those that are sensory overstimulation, you'll just end up with a fraught and crying baby that will most likely have a disrupted sleep and feeding pattern for the rest of the day