Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: I monitor my 2-year-old’s screen time, but when I am at work I think the nanny is letting her watch videos on the iPad. Is the screen time really that bad?

BBB: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: NO SCREENS BEFORE THE AGE OF 2. Yet there are surveys that have revealed that 40 percent of infants have watched some kind of screen by the age of 5 months. And by the age of 2 years that number rises to 90 percent. I don’t know about you, but I am horrified.

In my mind, there is absolutely no reason for a child under the age of 2 to have screen time of any kind at all. And thereafter, no more than half an hour per day for the toddler.

During the first three years of a human’s life, his brain grows most profoundly. In fact, it triples in mass in just the first year. You can imagine, therefore, that the stimuli the brain receives during these times of development are of critical importance. Because of this we ought to be doing as much as we can to help the child meet his potential when it comes to his brain development, don’t you think?

What a child is not getting, what he is not doing when he is in front of a screen is an equally important point. Young children learn by interacting with people and their environment, by using all of their senses.

Screen images are two-dimensional; they do not give the infant much information. Banging, dropping, throwing, mouthing the things in his world gives the child much more meaningful and valuable information, information his brain needs in order to grow.

A young child’s brain is incapable of making sense of a screen image. It is only after 2 years old that the brain is even sufficiently developed to be able to interpret the images viewed as symbols of what exists in the real world.

In addition, there is evidence that has shown that toddlers’ screen viewing can have lasting negative effects on the child’s language development, reading skills and short-term memory.

It has also been associated with shortened attention span and problems with sleep.  Need more? There’s plenty to answer the “Why no screens” question.

Of course, screens are here to stay. We cannot hide our children from that reality for long. And I know that whipping out your cell phone can be a real lifesaver when you must quiet your screaming toddler. But I believe we should do everything we can to limit young children’s screen exposure.

It is not only what they are seeing that needs limiting; it is the viewing of screens at all.

If I am being honest with you, my worry is that you have a nanny you cannot trust. That is frightening. I am sure you feel there is nothing more precious in your life than your child. The person with whom you are entrusting your child’s safety, well-being and daily development must be 100 percent trustworthy. Sounds like a change is in order.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.