At its national conference (Wednesday 20 March) the charity What About the Children? (WATCh?), Aric Sigman, member of the APPG on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, will argue that exposure to screens like smartphones, tablets, PCs and TVs has a negative impact on babies.
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Dr Sigman will call on the Government to introduce official guidance recommending ‘zero screen time’ for under-twos.
Other points he will make include:
- The ‘displacement effect’ – time spent on screens is time a baby is not spending on activities critical to brain development, such as interacting and bonding with a parent. This is amplified by the parent or carer being less available due to their use of screens.
- Screen exposure is linked to alterations in the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), and sleep disruption may cause depression through epigenetic changes in the brain affecting the function of serotonin.
- Screen time in infancy sets up habits for later on, and extensive exposure to computer games during childhood may lead to structural changes in the brain regions associated with addiction. Gaming disorder is now classified as a disease by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Sigman will say, ‘Time and again I hear the claim that babies need to be on screens because that’s the world they will inhabit. However, this is entirely unsubstantiated and defies most medical thinking on the matter.
‘Babies need social and emotional building blocks for brain development and that comes from one-to-one interaction with adults to whom they are attached. Physical play and exploration, eye contact and cuddling are the low tech but high impact sort of activities they should be enjoying. Other countries recognise this and offer advice accordingly – it’s time Britain follows suit.
‘Parents are seeking guidance, so we need to stop tiptoeing around this issue. It’s infants who need infantilising not parents.’
Dr Sigman will also recommend that infant screen time becomes part of pre-natal care and advice and is included in maternity ward ‘birth packs’ given to parents.
The conference, entitled ‘What Price Infant Mental Health? What are the costs of ignoring the emotional well-being of our youngest children?’ also features speakers including Cheryll Adams of the Institute of Health Visiting, Pam Jarvis of Leeds Trinity University and Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey.
- For more information or to download the 85 free research summaries visit www.whataboutthechildren.org.uk