Babies are fascinated by anything on a screen. Put a young child in front of a television set and you’ll get zombie-like stares for hours on end. Give them your phone and they’ll be occupied for hours. But that is the problem, according to pediatric specialists. A baby’s developing brain requires eye contact with a parent; they need to learn how to read facial expressions as those synapses in their growing brains develop. “But what is happening, unfortunately, is that electronic technology has become a primary means of parents either pacifying their children, or entertaining their children, or occupying their children,” says Texas Children’s Hospital developmental-behavioral pediatrician Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin.
She explains about tests that have been done in which parents read books to their young children, one group using real books and the other group reading from electronic tablets. “With the paper book the child and the parent had much more conversation about the story, and at the end of the story the child could retell more information about the story than the child who read the same story on a tablet,” Dr. Spinks-Franklin says.
The door on her office prohibits the use of electronics – intentionally, and her waiting room is filled with books and toys and things to enchant developing minds. She recommends that very young children be limited in their access to electronics to no more than 15 minute stretches, and says sitting down with a parent or siblings to play a board game or share a toy can be far more enriching than an i-Pad, even one programmed with educational apps. “What the research has found is that children learn more from a person than they can ever learn from a computer or piece of technology.”