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15 Mar 2022 | 12:12 | [email protected]

When the first COVID-19 lockdown hit countries worldwide, older children with online schooling requirements had more screen time than ever before. Interestingly, children ages 8 to 36 months old — toddlers who have no online schooling requirements — were also exposed to more screen time. According to the study published in the Scientific Reports journal, screen time is strongly embedded in the familial context, especially as older siblings are particularly involved in choosing content for and co-using devices with younger siblings.

While some circles believe that too much exposure to screens and digital devices have a negative impact on babies and toddlers, modern children inevitably start using digital media devices very early in life, and this only increases with age. Moreover, some studies also suggest that the rate of parents co-using mobile media with their child is highest amongst children who are younger than two years. Technology is an integral part of our interconnected world now, and we’ve only grown more reliant on our devices since the pandemic began.

As we mentioned in our post entitled 
‘COVID-19: A Year On’, the pandemic offered an opportunity to spend extended periods of time together at home. We had the chance to re-establish healthy family relationships, and better guide our children in the use of these gadgets. Here are some ways we can use technology to benefit our parent-infant relationships:

Co-engaged screen time can help you bond

When babies explore digital materials, it's important to ensure that they are also interacting with other people as part of the experience. Instead of plopping an infant in front of a screen alone as a passive viewer, an adult should always be present as a mediator and a co-user. Co-engaging with technology encourages bonding, which is highly beneficial for early development stages.

It’s best to supervise and interact with your infant as they are exposed to these technologies. Playing games or reading books together on a device can improve parent-child relationships. And at nine months old, babies are already imitating and mimicking adult behaviour, so parents should model appropriate use. As a role model, you should put smartphones away at meal times, treat devices with care, and interact with digital assistants politely to introduce positive values towards technology.

Smart technologies can track growth and learning

Recently, the World Economic Forum raised a concern about smart toys, which are devices that customise learning based on data they gather about children using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Useful these might be, they are also a concern for parents as closely monitoring children can seem intrusive and risky from a cybersecurity perspective. However, technology has always been headed in this direction, and actively created for positive, child-friendly use.

For instance, Robot Pet Friends describes how mini robot pets are programmed to recognise voice commands and interact with humans realistically. Using artificial intelligence, the toys can respond quickly to stimuli like voice and touch, derived from data collected in their surroundings for better engagement. Sophisticated mini robot pets are also designed to teach children about programming and robotics — allowing little ones to benefit from high-quality, interactive learning content. The right products can be pivotal for catalysing creativity and critical thinking skills during childhood. With ethically-sound products, parents can better track an infant’s growth and potential.

Online tools can offer opportunities for socialisation

An interesting study from the University of Washington revealed how ‘parentese’ — the speaking style of simple words and exaggerated sounds to draw a baby’s attention — actually enhances a child’s later language skills. Conversing with babies in their “language” is a social hook for the child’s brain, inviting them to respond. Of course, these conversations shouldn’t be limited between parents and children. Milestone communication should involve other people like faraway relatives and trusted family friends.

Interactive video calls make babies more sociable. They learn and build close connections with adults on the screen, while learning new words and behaviours through these interactions. Aside from maintaining social bonds, online tools can be an active and engaging way for young children to recognise family, friends, animals, objects, and the environment through images, or expose them to people, places, and things from around the world they may not otherwise encounter.

For more information on how to form relationships with young children we have plenty of content here on 
DorPIP.

Article was specially written for https://www.dorpip.org.uk/ by Anna Garner