With all the conflicting information available online, it can be difficult to find factual information about what is and is not bad for your children. One of the contentious points involves electronic toys with built-in blinking or flashing lights.
Blinking and flashing lights do not specifically harm babies unless they suffer photosensitivity. Electronic toys could be considered ‘bad’ if they are used in place of human interaction, where babies will be exposed to a parent or caregiver’s speech and demonstration.
While there is a documented study in the JAMA Pediatrics journal that found a correlation between electronic toys with flashing lights alongside digital audio and decreased language development, it is accepted that this is more to do with a baby’s engagement with other people – which happens more frequently with analog toys. (Think the wooden blocks and puzzles that you had when you were a child.) This is part of a bigger picture about a child’s development.
Playing Is Essential for Babies
It is imperative to establish right away that playing is a necessary part of babies’ and toddler’s development. Playing is a way for children to develop social and cognitive skills, abstract thinking, motor skills, and many other integral developmental steps. According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is such an important aspect of child development that the United Nations High Commission has actually recognized it as a human right of every child.
Playing gives children the opportunity to let their creativity loose through imagination and building a cognitive awareness of their surroundings. By giving children the ability to create and explore a world that they are in control of, they develop their role alongside adult caregivers and other children. In particular, undirected play allows the minds of babies and toddlers to shape their interactions with others through sharing, negotiating, and resolving conflicts.
These skills are why books, building blocks, and other open-ended toys that encourage children to invent their own fun are so useful. Books are the perfect gateway for the imagination to roam free, and reading is an absolutely essential skill that benefits children who develop it sooner rather than later. Blocks hone fine motor skills and pattern recognition alongside a whole host of other creative benefits.
The challenge comes from the way passive entertainment has grown in the last several decades. When children are being entertained by something on a screen that only involves them watching and not interacting, it leads to inactivity, both physically and mentally. It is important to note that this does not mean television and other screens have no place with children. Instead, there needs to be interaction from caregivers simultaneously to promote healthier viewing habits.
Electronic Toys are Worth it for Babies
Electronic toys exist in a middle ground between the two sides mentioned above. While some electric toys have a small degree of physical manipulation to them that can hone motor skills, many only offer buttons with visual or auditory feedback. Researchers believe that language develops most ideally through interpersonal contact, and households spend less time talking if there are toys that do the talking instead.
Flashing and blinking lights themselves do not cause harm to babies, according to most studies, unless there is a predisposition for epilepsy present. However, technical toys have less potential for developing those fine motor skills than traditional physical toys. Using crayons in a coloring book takes a lot more effort and coordination than using a coloring app on a smartphone or tablet. Similarly, online videos, even educational ones, don’t have the same capability to teach trial and error that develops from playing with physical toys.
Pediatricians don’t advise cutting children off entirely from technical or digital toys but rather encourage diversity with playthings. The additional stimulus that tech toys provide can make more mundane ones less appealing if they become accustomed to the digital ones only. Letting your child spend a few minutes on an iPad won’t destroy their development and can bolster their understanding of modern technology. The important consideration is to break that kind of playtime up with other items like books or hands-on toys.
How Do a Child’s Eyes Develop?
Many of the concerns with toys that flash and blink with bright lights are tied to misunderstanding how children’s vision develops. Along with the rest of childhood development, infants’ eyes undergo many changes in the first few months and even further over their first few years of life. Understanding how your child’s eyes develop will help you understand how toys, lights, and other visual stimuli affect them and contribute to their growth.
1. At Birth
When your baby is first born, they can only see in black, white, and shades of gray. There are many nerves in their brain and retina which control vision that won’t fully develop for at least a month or two. Play is less of a consideration at this stage, and your focus should be primarily on interacting visually with your newborn child.
2. Their First Month
For the first month after birth, your child’s eyes will not be very sensitive to light. In many cases, a one-month-old infant requires as much as fifty times the amount of light than an adult to be aware that light is present. While infants begin to develop the ability to see in color quickly, it will take longer to see colors like blue that possess a shorter wavelength.
3. Months Two And Three
A tremendous amount of advancement takes place at this point. At this stage of development, your child’s eyes will be able to focus on objects more clearly, and they will become more sensitive to light, though still only at ten times that of an adult. You may want to dim the lights during naps and bedtime. However, the American Optometric Association advises keeping a night light on to provide visual stimulation when they are awake in their crib.
4. Months Four To Six
This stage is notable as your infant will have gained the ability to see quite distinctly and follow moving objects. At this point, they can see all colors, and their hand-eye coordination will be at the stage where they can quickly and accurately pick up items and direct them to their mouth. Six months is also an important marker as it indicates when your baby should have their first eye exam.
5. Months Seven To Twelve
At this stage in development, your infant will be very mobile and develop a better understanding of their body and how to coordinate it. Throughout their development, ensure that you pay attention to how well your child’s eyes work together. If you detect that one of your baby’s eyes is misaligned, reach out to your optometrist or pediatrician as soon as possible to correct any potential issues.
As they grow from babies to toddlers to adolescents, your child’s eyes will develop further. Generally speaking, children do not have the ability to manage their own use of screens and other digital toys, so, as caregivers, it is important to moderate these devices for them.
Baby Toy Variety Is Key
As with many other aspects of healthy human development, the most important thing to remember is variety and moderation. While toys that rely on flashing and blinking lights and accompanying sounds will not single-handedly cause harm to your child, they can contribute to many developmental issues if left unattended.
As caregivers, our responsibility is to guide our children and help them develop to their fullest potential. Keep their development in mind and try to find digital toys that promote creativity and experimentation. At the same time, encourage reading books and playing with physical toys like building blocks and other tactile items. There are very few perfectly right answers when it comes to child-rearing, but always remember to stay educated, and your children will live a happy, healthy life.