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I have a 6 month old who likes to stare at my glowing computer while I code or browse the internet. Most of what I view is text or static web pages, so it's not content I'm worried about her viewing, it's the flashing to different windows and screens.

I know the AAP recommends you not let your child watch TV until they are at least 2, for various reasons-- one of which is that rapidly changing scenes shorten a baby's attention span. Does this apply to computer screen as well?

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Babies pick up languages quickly. Maybe your child is on their way to mastering C# and Java by age 1! –  DA01 Mar 26 '12 at 16:50
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To anyone else in this situation: Cherish this time! It doesn't take long until you won't be able to get your little one to sit still so long. I used to be able to code and/or game with my son in my lap, but he's no longer content to just sit there and his hands move very fast! –  CreationEdge Mar 16 at 0:52
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@DA01 Blast. All my dad ever showed me on the screen was Virtual Yahtzee. No wonder I enjoy dice games so much... –  Zibbobz Mar 16 at 15:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Yes and no:

Yes the rule of thumb is equally valid for computer screens as for TV screens.
No your daughter won't become a raging lunatic from watching you code.

The recommendation against watching TV is not, as I understand it, because it shortens the attention span, but because it overloads the mind. A small child is not mentally capable of processing so much visual input and will be overwhelmed. Especially if the child is sitting too close to a big screen.

If your child is far enough away that the screen is not a major visual object, and you're not flicking between apps that are visually wildly different (Outlook, MS Word, Firefox, Eclipse -- they all look the same from the other side of the room), then I see no harm coming from the monitor itself.

Baby mobiles are popular with infants because their slow visual changes are pleasing. I'm not saying your monitor is pleasing in the same way (but a screensaver probably would be!), but it does explain why she stares at it so much. Also, whatever engrosses you is bound to stir your child's attention too. Kids don't want to play with the parents' smartphones because they're smartphones but because the parents constantly play with them - so they must be intriguing.

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Actually, there is now at least one well-known study that links fast-paced cartoons to short attention spans. The article I linked to discusses the results of the study (which was publish about a month after this answer). Regardless, I agree with the rest of your answer. –  CreationEdge Mar 16 at 0:50
    
@CreationEdge Correlation does not imply causation, but in this case, the inability to process so much visual input in cartoons could be causation. And a significant correlation is something to raise your eyebrows at. –  Zibbobz Mar 16 at 15:06
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@Zibbobz Yep, that's why I only said links and left the rest up to the reader. –  CreationEdge Mar 16 at 15:09

Yes, it's not doing anything good for your baby to sit and wide-eyed stare at your computer screen. Also you're not interacting at all.

No, it's good for your baby to sit with you and be held!

Soon enough the question will be moot anyway because your baby won't be content to just sit with you and will want to play, push the mouse, talk to you, etc so you'll only be trying to do it for short periods. :-)

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I've asked this question about TV, but this seems a little different. According to Brain Rules For Baby: How to raise a smart and happy child from Zero to Five TV for kids under the age of 2, screen time can decrease attention span and lead to trouble focusing.

I can potentially see this because of the way that content on TV is edited and paced. Lots of information thrown at you really quickly. This can lead to trouble focusing...especially when a developing baby's brain is probably not able to handle that amount of information.

The author John Medina also writes and cites a study... "For each hour of TV watched daily by children under age 4, the risk increased 9 percent that they would engage in bullying behavior by the time they started school. This is poor emotional regulation at work." Of course I'm taking this with a grain of salt, but it's food for thought.

For my computer. The screen is mostly static except for the moving cursor of a text editor or me meticulously manipulating an image.

My gut feel is that it probably is not harmful. I'm having a hard time finding studies. Most things I find are about kids using the computer...and these are older kids.

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