There are few sounds in the world that are better than a baby giggling. And that hysterical baby giggle, coupled with the gummy smile… Well, it gets me every time. I melt.
And that’s how Billy, my now 7-month old, spent 20 minutes last week. Laughing hysterically with (and at) at Uncle Toddy.
There was babbling. There was goo-ing and gah-ing. There were lots of raspberries and snorts (yes, I have a snorter).
It was a special moment between my bubba and his Uncle. Priceless.
Except, his Uncle was 14 000 km away in Canada. And their interaction was via a screen.
As you’ve probably guessed, Billy and Uncle Toddy were having this magical moment via Skype.
What a great example of technology allowing us to do amazing, mind-blowing things. Things that aren’t conceivable without the technology. And I think that’s pretty special.
It’s exactly what the neuroscience tells us that babies need for optimal brain development: serve-and-return interactions with other adults and language exposure.
Now I know that screens and babies is often a controversial topic.
But if I was adhering to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Screen-Time Guidelines*, or in fact the Australian guidelines for screen-time, then my baby would’ve missed this experience with Uncle Toddy. These guidelines suggest that children under the age of 2 should not use screens. Period. No screen for children under 2 years.
And this is one of the reasons why I propose that these guidelines need updating.
Not all screens are ‘bad’.
Now I’m not saying that we should hurry to place babies in front of TV screens, or place them in bouncers with iPads dangling precariously above their faces, or give them smartphones in dribble-proof cases to teach them letters and numbers. Nope. This certainly isn’t what babies and toddlers need.
Babies need rich, serve-and-return interactions with adults, physical movement and to form secure attachments with their parents and care-givers. Some screens (not all) inhibit these essential experiences.
But Skype is a brilliant example that shows how screens can be beneficial for babies and young children.
Why? The screen was intentionally used. It wasn’t being used as a digital baby-sitter or a digital pacifier.
Most importantly, the screen was being used to facilitate interaction. Meaningful interaction between a baby and his (very excited and playful) Uncle.
And that’s where the magic happens for babies and young children when it comes to technology. In fact, that’s where the magic happens for most of us with technology.
Screens need to promote interaction for babies and children to benefit.
When screens aren’t used interactively, then this isn’t ideal use of the technology. Passive use of technology is not ideal.
We don’t want our children sitting around watching endless hours of You Tube videos, or countless TV programs (even if they claim to be educational).
This is why there is a phenomenon called the ‘video deficit’. It’s the inability to transfer learning from a screen to real-life situations.
Research has shown us that when children watch a TV or DVD program where they are passive, they learn less than what they would have had they been interacting with a real person, or real-life objects.
This is why I suggest limiting (I didn’t say banning) young children’s exposure to TV and DVDs in the first two years of life and also why I strongly suggest avoiding ‘baby media’. Babies and children don’t necessarily benefit from passive media.
Now before you spiral into a state of techno-guilt and panic because you’ve allowed your child to watch TV and DVDs before 2 years of age, please click below. **
We do know that children do benefit from interactive media. And this is why devices like iPads and interactive whiteboards have been widely adopted in schools. The interactivity they offer actually helps children learn (if the teachers use them appropriately and intentionally).
Skype is one of the few technologies that most people applaud (apart from when you get the ‘snow-storm’ fuzzing sound just when something important is being said).
Skype is also a form of technology that many families regularly use because more parents travel for work and have families living interstate or even abroad.
And I’m here to share the good news.
Children benefit and learn language skills from Skype (and other interactive communication mediums like Face Time and video chatting programs).
The research tells us that ‘responsive interactions’ are essential to helping children learn language.
Children learn language when they experience those serve-and-return interactions. That to-and-fro conversation is essential for babies and young children to acquire language. (This is also why I recommend that parents talk to their children before, during and/or after they’ve used technology. It actually helps them to learn.)
And that’s precisely what Skype (and other video-chat technologies) offer.
If Billy’s chubby little hands banging excitedly on the table were any indication of the fun he was having cackling at Uncle Toddy, then he sure did enjoy the Skype call. And the added benefit is that he was actually learning too.
So thank-you Uncle Toddy. You may not have realised it at the time, but your goo-ing and gah-ing last week was actually helping to build Billy’s brain. And that’s pretty amazing!
If you want some tips on how your child can benefit from Skype, click here.
I’d love to hear below in the comments, how does your family (or class) uses Skype to connect? What benefits have you seen?
*In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their policy statement on screen-time guidelines. These revised guidelines ‘discouraged’ media use before two years of age.
**Rest assured, it’s unlikely that you are ‘harming’ your child if they watch a bit of TV or a DVD every now and then when they are under 2 years of age. I’m a parent and I’m the first to declare that when my son was under two he’d occasionally watch TV. Occasionally. And I was okay with that (mostly because it allowed me to cook dinner or make an important phone call without distraction). But it’s important that we remember that children under two may not necessarily be learning when they are watching these programs. Don’t be duped. Your 12-month old is unlikely to be learning new vocabulary just by watching a DVD that flashes up words and pictures of oranges. She’d actually be better off playing, touching, smelling and licking an orange and hearing you talk about the orange.
***Researchers studied 36 two-year-olds, who learned new verbs through one of three mediums: (i) training with a ‘live’ person, (ii) live video-chat technology such as Skype, or (iii) pre-recorded video instruction. The study found that children learned new words only when conversing with a person live and in the video chat. Both of these format require ‘responsive social interactions’.
Roseberry, S. Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff. R, M. (2013) Skype me! Socially contingent interactions help toddlers learn language. Child Development, September.