- Every single child walked in with a tablet or a phone in their hands, already turned ON; as they sat down, their eyes did not look up or around, but stayed glued to the screens until they were called in (an average of 45-60 minutes) ;
- Babies and toddlers in strollers had a phone / tablet with cartoons in front of them;
- Moms were on their phones the entire duration of the wait time, including moms with infants. There were no dads during the time I was there.
These are the facts. I am reporting what I’ve observed, with maximum objectivity. It shocked me. Here’s why:
“Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills. Much like a lively game of tennis, volleyball, or Ping-Pong, this back-and-forth is both fun and capacity-building. When caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a young child’s signals and needs, they provide an environment rich in serve and return experiences.
Because responsive relationships are both expected and essential, their absence is a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being. Healthy brain architecture depends on a sturdy foundation built by appropriate input from a child’s senses and stable, responsive relationships with caring adults. If an adult’s responses to a child are unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, the developing architecture of the brain may be disrupted, and subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may be impaired. The persistent absence of serve and return interaction acts as a “double whammy” for healthy development: not only does the brain not receive the positive stimulation it needs, but the body’s stress response is activated, flooding the developing brain with potentially harmful stress hormones.”
Nothing can be changed without an honest look at the problem.
On one hand: If children are given smartphones/ tablets at such young ages (0-6), how can we expect these children to develop optimally? When the phone steals the opportunities for serve and repeat (eye contact, a smile, a head nodding, a word, a hug, an interaction of any kind, in other words, opportunities for growth and connection), what can we ask of these children when they are in elementary school or middle school?
On another hand: Young children must compete with their parents’ smartphones for attention, which is tragic in itself. We’ve all been guilty of this at times; the problem gets serious when parents are not self- aware, and do not make an effort to change this behavior.
Here are few ideas to minimize your usage of the smartphone around your kids:
- turn off all notifications, from apps to emails;
- set your phone on sleep mode early on each evening;
- do not sleep with the phone in your room;
- take time off from social media regularly, few consecutive days at the time; (see my previous articles on this topic)
- develop the discipline not to be on your phone when you are with your kids;
- set periods of time aside for you to check your phone, separate from your time with the kids (when they are in school, when they play with someone else, etc);
- don’t beat yourself up; start again as many times as you need to;
- keep yourself accountable; be honest with yourself;
- read and educate yourself on the topic;
- play more;
- stay IN-THE-PRESENT with your child.