Is modern life really harming your baby’s brain?

We look at the truth behind the headlines that pushchairs and electronic tablets are ‘harming’ our children's brains

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“Staying too long in a buggy and using electronic tablets damages children’s brains” shout the headlines in some of our newspapers today. Is this just another scare story or should we be worried?

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As usual, there’s some good common sense buried within the screaming headlines. And for most of us, who spend time interacting with our babies and toddlers, no, we shouldn’t be worried.

Still, it’s a timely reminder that spending time simply talking and playing with our little ones is really important. Meanwhile, letting them play occasionally on a tablet is not going to turn their brains to jelly. Everything in moderation.

So what’s behind the story?

It’s come from a warning by neuro-psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe who says that too much time in forward-facing buggies and using tablets or smartphones reduces the time that children spend interacting with parents or exploring freely. And this can affect how their brains develop, which may mean they don’t perform so well at school.

Sally delivered this stark warning at a conference staged by the charity WATCh? (What About the Children?).

She says: “Attention, balance and co-ordination skills learned during the first 36 months of life support cognitive learning and have been linked to performance on SATs at school.

“Infants need opportunity for free movement and exploration, whether that is tummy time, cuddling or rough play.

“That is not happening if a child is in a forward facing buggy and her mum is using her smartphone.”

The forward-facing vs parent-facing buggy debate first arose in 2008 following University of Dundee research into the psychological effects of which way babies faced in their pushchairs.

The study found that parents and their children interacted more when using face-to-face buggies.

But the study also found the children chatted of their own accord just as much, whichever way they were facing. And the main learning was that it’s good to talk to your baby and toddler while they’re in the buggy, whether they’re looking at you or looking out, 

So is modern life really harming your baby?

Sally warns about the increasing use of tablets and smartphone apps by toddlers and even babies. And let’s face it, we know how much little ones love our screens.

Clearly, if a young child spends a lot of time on a screen and not interacting with you or the outside world, this is not a good thing. So the advice is mix it up. 

Do tummy time, let your baby or toddler play, chat (or even sing) to your child in the buggy, allow your baby a bit of screen time and give them lots of opportunities to discover all sorts of wonderful things – including, and especially, you!

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