Advice on your toddlers TV and computer habits

By Heather Welford. Should you let your child spend time in front of a TV or computer screen? Here are some points to consider.

Child with laptop

Introduction

Babies may seem to enjoy watching television, but studies show that time spent in front of a screen is not helpful to physical and mental development. Babies need interaction and response and, by its very nature, TV is not able to do this.

However, this doesn't mean that you can never let your baby be in a room where the TV is on. Here are some guidance on safe, useful and worthwhile use of the TV:

  • Watch TV with your baby (don't leave them to view programmes on their own).
  • Keep screen time short - for younger babies a few minutes at a time is sufficient. Older babies could watch for a bit longer.
  • Make sure programmes/DVDs are aimed at their age group.
  • Get into the habit of turning off the TV and avoid having it on in the background. Constant exposure to TV is associated with language delay because babies' differentiation of sound is hampered by it, plus the TV screen is a magnet for adult eyes which means less attention for the baby.
  • Extend the activities you see on screen - learn the songs, action rhymes and stories you have watched together and make them part of your conversation and play with your baby at other times of the day.

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies programmes which are aimed at babies and very young children have been produced with the understanding and needs of their audience.

The shows feature a good deal of repetition, opportunities to respond, activities that encourage movement and action - all presented at a gentle pace which allows your baby or toddler to absorb what they see.

Good examples of programmes to watch with a young child include In The Night Garden, Teletubbies and Baby Jake.

How to make a magic moment

Using a computer with an older baby can be a shared experience that you both enjoy.

Your child will certainly want to copy you, hitting the keyboard (you may need to hold his hands or give him something to grasp to prevent this). For a short time at least, you can have some fun together.

Here are some suggestions:

  • You could go through some photos together and name the people in them (you can put together an on-screen album of pictures you know your baby will like).
  • You could watch some short video clips together - there are dozens of stories and songs on the CBeebies website which you could explore.
  • Or, you could try a simple game - e.g. one using the space bar only (your baby won't manage to click a mouse or use arrow keys) - but with you holding his hand should manage some easy games such as the Teletubbies Peek-a-boo game.

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Top tips

  • Try out some suitable DVDs (but don't be taken in by claims of 'educational benefit' - studies show that any learning benefits don't really begin before the age of two). Your baby may well enjoy the DVDs, and they're useful in that you're not dependent on scheduling and you can take them with you if you go away.Avoid putting a TV in your baby's room - watching a screen before going to sleep is over-stimulating.It's a while before your child realises that characters in TV shows are pretending, and that puppets and cartoon characters are not real, and that they don't live inside the TV. This can be confusing for your toddler so make sure you explain what is happening in the programme if they are scared or puzzled.

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