My husband and I live 1,111 miles away from our family, which means our daughter, June lives 1,111 miles away from her closest grandparent. So, naturally, we get several FaceTime calls a week, and by "we" I really mean June. My mom doesn't even try to pretend like she's calling to talk to me anymore. She'll even text me saying, "What's June doing right now?" If I say she's napping, or she's out with her dad, she'll write back, "ok, talk later!" (I don't blame her one bit, though. I can't imagine being 1,111 miles away from June.) So, with six grandparents, and at least double that amount of aunts and uncles, we spend a good amount of time Facetiming. Luckily, FaceTime does not count as screen time.
Ok, there's no getting around the fact that screen time, whether it is a computer, tablet, television, cell phone, electronic game or any other device with a screen on the outside and technology inside, is not good for child development. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or technology at all for children under two years of age. For children two and up, their recommendation to parents is limiting screen time to less than one to two hours a day with restrictions on content. Here's why: in order for a child's brain to grow, serve-and-return linguistic interaction in the baby-caretaker relationship is a key factor, and its importance cannot be emphasized enough. (Suskind, p. 72-73) When a child is watching a screen, it's a one-way street of entertainment, which is fun, but does nothing for brain development. "There is no way any of these technologies can tune-in to a child, and therefore, science tells us that no learning will occur." (Suskind, p. 187). "Even when shows do integrate questions into their dialogue, the responses children receive for their answers are preprogrammed, not tuned-in to the child, nor to the child's reply." (Suskind, p. 188).
It's not that the screen is necessarily bad for the child; it's that the technology can't tune-in to provide that two-way interaction that is so important for learning. So, if your goal is to simply entertain your child so you can get five minutes of peace, then, yes, screens are the way to go. But, if you're hoping a child will become a genius by making them watch an hour of baby Einstein each day, then a better bet is to turn off that screen, and engage with your child.
FaceTime, however, does not count as screen time because it can provide a two-way interaction between the child and the person(s) on the other end, according to Suskind. Simply saying the child's name, or commenting on what he or she is wearing or eating, is all it takes to let the child know that you are tuned-in to them. FaceTime is the only technology that can allow a two-way interaction with a child, and, therefore, allow learning to occur. As long as the aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas on the screen are tuned-in to what the child is doing, and providing that serve-and-return linguistic interaction, then learning is occurring. Yes, even through a screen.
Confession: Personally, when I first read the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for no T.V. or technology for children under two, I thought "there's no way any parent is following that recommendation these days when screens are so ubiquitous." I found it virtually impossible to not expose my child to a screen before she was two months old, let alone two years. But, it is very easily possible to not have a child exposed to a screen all day and night, and instead, turn the T.V. off for some one-on-one engagement. Honestly, June watched nearly every single Indiana basketball game last season on a big ol' 48-inch, brightly colored television because dada was not going to miss a game, and mama needed a break from her colicky baby (see the proof below). But, generally, we try to keep the screen time to a minimum around here, and, instead, tune-in to what June is into.