Want to stimulate your baby’s brain? Make a media plan that balances your kids’ day with quality content and plenty of developmentally appropriate activities

Using the TV, a tablet, a smart phone or video game as a babysitter may not be something to brag about, but we all know that it’s an easy way to buy some necessary downtime. According to the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eightchildren of eight years and under spend about two hours a day interacting with screen media. That’s a lot.

Obviously, a little screen time won’t harm your child. But heavy screen use can negatively impact babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, physical and emotional development. In the crucial nought to two years of age, children learn best by exploring the physical world with all of their senses and interacting directly with loving caregivers.

However, new research indicates some positive benefits from early media use – particularly with digital devices. Recommendations from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) released in October 2016 allow for some screen use for kids younger than two, including video chatting with relatives, as long as parents choose high-quality media, and are actively involved.

It requires a little extra effort on the part of parents to carefully consider what their babies and toddlers are interacting with. Fortunately, programs with learning potential, pro-social messages, and brain-stimulating interaction – rather than mere passive consumption – are not hard to find.

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Heavy screen use can negatively impact babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, physical and emotional development

Here are some ideas on how to successfully manage your little one’s media time.

Tips for parents of young kids:

  • If you’re going to let babies interact with a screen, know what they’re watching and playing. Be smart about the programs you pick. Choose games or programs that are age appropriate, with non-jarring sounds and bright, stimulating colours.
  • Don’t turn TV into preschool. Baby TV hasn’t proven to be of any benefit for school readiness. The best preparation for your children involves spending time with them, reading, talking and exposing them to the world.
  • Have-it-your-way TV. Take advantage of your PVR and streaming TV on the Internet to take control of what your kids watch, when they watch, and how much they watch. Customise the experience by skipping adverts and muting the parts you don’t want your children to hear.
  • As kids get older, keep media out of their bedroom. When TVs or computers are in their room, kids spend more time using them, and parents are less involved with their choices.
  • Teach your children to ask you whether it’s OK to turn on media. This simple control mechanism helps keep gaming, TV watching, and online activity from becoming a habit.
  • Watch the clock. Media use increases as children get older. Less screen time improves your children’s ability to entertain themselves in other ways. Set time rules, and stick to them.
  • Co-view and co-play. Take an active role in your kids’ media and take the time to share your values with them.