We’ve all been there: there is a moment in the life of parents when television becomes a wonderful tool to keep your baby busy for a few minutes, allowing you to take a shower in peace or to go about some tasks in the house. However, doctors generally recommend not exposing young children to TV or screens until they are 18 months old. Often, children are introduced to technology long before that, but according to studies on the subject, screens can have an impact on their development and a toddler’s behaviour.
We waited a little over 18 months before letting Maximiliano watch television for the first time. In fact, he was not introduced to TV and tablet screens until around 22 months and it was love at first sight for Cocomelon, the show that is all the rage with toddlers right now thanks to their catchy melodies. Then, the tablet appeared to us as a precious ally when we left home to spend a month in Italy. YouTube became our best friend at the airport, then at the restaurant, or whenever Max seemed difficult to calm down. We alternated between videos of trucks (his favourite), educational videos on language, and cartoons appropriate for his age.
It’s probably a coincidence, but that’s when, I noticed a change in our toddler’s behaviour. Our little boy started throwing temper tantrums and having trouble managing his emotions. A normal step in the development of a child – the famous Terrible Twos – and despite all the articles that we read on the subject, training purchased online or conversations with other parents, we had a lot of trouble managing these months of transition. The arrival of a little brother added fuel to the fire, and even if we wanted to limit his exposure to screens, the iPad had become the only way to make him eat breakfast and get ready in the morning to go to daycare.
If “you are what you eat,” then the brain is what it experiences, and video entertainment is like mental junk food for babies and toddlers.
Despite our understanding, support and love, Max’s tantrums didn’t seem to diminish. After an informed discussion with his daycare educator, we decided to turn off the screens during the week and keep this activity for the weekends. Instead, the new routine was to put on music to dance to in the morning and allow him to play and stretch as soon as possible, instead of letting him get lost in the colorful videos that were a little too stimulating for his two-and-a-half-year-old brain.
We were impressed and noticed a clear change in his behavior after just a few days. Although we had to be firm and wipe away tears every time we refused to open the TV or tablet, we saw that this change did him a world of good. After the first week, Max was already more cooperative, less aggressive and smiling much more. We decided not to expose him to television at all, even on weekends, for the sake of everyone.
”The problem lies not only with what toddlers are doing while they’re watching TV; it’s what they aren’t doing. Specifically, children are programmed to learn from interacting with other people. The dance of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language between a toddler and parent is not only beautiful, it’s so complex that researchers have to record these interactions on video and slow them down just to see everything that’s going on. Whenever one party in this dance, child or parent, is watching TV, the exchange comes to a halt.
A toddler learns a lot more from banging pans on the floor while you cook dinner than he does from watching a screen for the same amount of time, because every now and then the two of you look at each other.”
According to pediatrician David Hill, MD, FAAP, is Vice President of Cape Fear Pediatrics in Wilmington, NC – from healthychildren.org
It’s been two months since the new routine has been installed, and Max’s behavior is much more positive. Seeing him flourish through DIY activities, cooking with us or simply playing with others is pure bliss. I never thought this change would make such a difference in our lives, and that’s why I wanted to share our story to help other families for whom it could be so beneficial.
Maximiliano watched television for the first time in more than two months this weekend, and although he seemed happy to see the colourful trucks on the screen, he only sat for about fifteen minutes before heading to his playroom. And we turned off the TV and cried victory!