Babies and cell phones: What you should and shouldn’t do
As cell phones are an integral part of day to day life, it’s impossible to stop children from being exposed to their use. It’s important to know if there are any risks if babies and cell phones are in close proximity, and what you can do to prevent them.
Let’s take a look at any potential health effects using cell phones around infants can have, and what we can do to limit it.
Early and frequent cell phone exposure
According to a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media, 38% of babies under 2 years old in the United States have already played with a tablet or smartphone. That’s more than a third of young children, and 3 times that of 2011.
And that was 6 years ago, so it could only have gotten worse since then. Soon your baby will tell you how to use Google correctly.
Another study in 2020 by JAMA Pediatrics found that 75.3% of children under two are exceeding the maximum daily screen time recommendations. And it can have long tern effects. Another JAMA study in 2023 found that by age 9, this can have a serious impact on children’s executive functions and cognitive development.
That’s not to mention all the cell phone radiation they’re also getting in the bargain. They won’t become Spider-Man from it, either.
We’re a long way from where we should be in terms of cell phones and infants, which actually recommend not letting children below aged 2 have any screen time at all.
However, even if you cut back on your TV usage, the problem is that screens are everywhere. If it’s not TV, then it’s your cell phone, tablet or portable console their eyes will be drawn to instead.
In yet another study in 2021, out of 1000 parents questioned, 39% admitted to giving their cell phone to their child to keep them quiet. Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it. Sometimes we just miss adult conversations.
Babies and cell phones: the risks
Essentially, giving your mobile phone to your child when you’re bored and stuck waiting somewhere, or even sharing with them as you doom scroll through social media, isn’t the best of ideas.
There are significant reasons for this that have to do with your child’s development:
- 🧠 Impact on a child's cognitive development: Underage mobile phone use risks thinning of the cerebral cortex, lack of external stimulation, delays in language or memory acquisition, difficulty in attention and concentration, and reduced problem solving abilities.
- 🙏 Impact on child development: Babies and infants learn by observing and imitating. Face-to-face interactions play a very important role in their social-emotional development, communication and emotional development. All of this comes from eye contact with people, not pixels. Even if the pixels are human-shaped.
- ⛹️ Physical and motor development disorders: Over use of screens leads to an increase in pathologies linked to a sedentary lifestyle.
- 🔵 Effects of blue light on a young child: We’re all exposed and can suffer these ill effects, but the younger the child is, the more impact this exposure could have. The dangers of blue light include eye fatigue, increased risk of AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration) and vision problems. Blue light also disrupts your circadian rhythm and natural sleep cycle. If you thought your baby wasn't sleeping through the night before, giving them a screen will only make it 200 times worse.
💡 Note: If your little one wears prescription glasses, you can also ask for them to include anti-blue light protection. That doesn’t mean you can start exposing them to screens more, though.
Smartphones and toddlers: Top tips and advice
Prevention is better than cure! Especially when it comes to a little defenseless baby, that’s relying on you to give them the appropriate exposure to screens. Children's brains are still learning and growing, the last thing we want to do is stifle that growth with cellphone radiation.
Even though it’s too late for us adults, children still have a chance of staying away from cell phones… for now, at least. Here’s how to do it:
- 🚫 No screens before 3 years old: Even if you’re binge-watching Only Murders in the Building, they don’t need to do it with you (and definitely shouldn’t). Tell yourself, and them, if it makes you feel better, that it's for their good. And who knows, you might find yourself spending less time in front of screens too! That way, this season might last more than a day.
- 💭 Offer alternative activities: to keep baby busy, there are plenty of solutions outside of screens! Of course, it might require you to think of multisensory activities you haven’t tried before, but children are surprisingly easy to entertain. Just make sure there’s interaction, exchange and touch involved. You don’t need to ask them to solve a Rubik’s cube.
- 👿 Don’t demonize screens: The more we’re told more, the more we want it. Instead, set reasonable parameters that increase accordingly with their age. That way, it’ll no longer seem like forbidden fruit.
💡 A small additional warning: So far, we’ve talked about giving your phone to a baby or toddler so they can spit, drool and squeeze it unnecessarily. But what about your cell phone use? If your kid is glued to your side as so many are, that means they’re still vicariously spending time looking at screens through you. They’re getting exposure by proximity, like second-hand smoke. Plus, you’re distracted and ignoring your little darling.
Babies and cell phones: Final thoughts
Toddlers and babies are experiencing higher volumes of screen exposure all the time. This can start from before they can even comprehend what they’re actually looking at. All of this exposure to a young, developing child's brain can and will have a negative effect that will only increase with more phone usage.
Without trying to sound morally superior, the more you can prevent this, the better it is for their cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical development. This is particularly true before age 2, where it’s essential they don’t use screens at all.
It’s simply not worth the risk.
Make sure that, as a parent, you’re adhering to the scientifically backed screen time recommendations and wait till later in life to introduce your little one to the joys of constant 24 internet access. In the meantime, wait until they’re napping to fire up Instagram.