Parenting in the age of iPhones

As parents grow more ‘connected’ through smartphones and other digital devices, the effect seems to be a growing disconnect between them and their children, says a local child development expert. - web image
As parents grow more ‘connected’ through smartphones and other digital devices, the effect seems to be a growing disconnect between them and their children, says a local child development expert.
— image credit: web image

This is a third in a series looking at the challenges

of parenting in a busy and ever-changing, digital world by Monique Tamminga


The next time you go to a restaurant or playground, glance around to see how many parents are looking at their phones rather than at their child.

We’ve all done it. Texting while nursing, talking on the phone while pushing the baby stroller, checking Facebook while a child plays on the playground. But is the glow of smartphones dimming our relationship with our children?

“We are so hooked on our phones,” said Cora Boecker, a member of Langley’s Early Child Development Committee, a team of child development experts trying to bring awareness and provide advice to parents raising kids in a fast-paced, digital society.

She is also a supervisor for the infant development program at the Langley Child Development Centre.

“Something has changed in our brains, in that we can’t resist immediately looking at our phone when it pings with a message.”

But parents may be spending too much time looking at their phones instead of looking at their children.

“The human connection is so important in the development of a child but our addiction to our phones has changed how we interact, or more importantly how we don’t interact with our children,” she said.

By ignoring our children in preference for our phones are we sending a message to our children that the phone is more important, more interesting than they are? If so, how is this impacting their development?

Boecker points to child psychologists who suggest that the nervous system and brain develops more effectively when a child experiences emotional, face-to-face connections. While our addiction to smartphones is too new a trend to provide any tangible research findings, awareness of the potential harm it can cause is key, said Boecker.

The committee is hoping to show parents what they are missing with their kids when they are busy paying attention to their phone.

“This isn’t meant to make parents feel bad or to lecture them but there is an important message here that interacting and engaging with your babies, your toddlers and your children helps their brain development. Humans’ need for attachment supersedes even that of hunger,” Boecker said.

“We need to find a balance. There will always be a place for technology and our smartphones have so many benefits, but it is hard to respond to the smile of a child if you are looking at your phone instead of their face.”

Face-to face-connections is the primary way in which babies learn language.

It is also how they learn about their emotions and how to regulate them, by watching their parents’ facial expressions, emotional interactions and even watching and listening to conversations.

“Babies love to study their mom’s face and expressions and if the baby is lying in his carseat on the floor, with only your ankles to look at while you eat at a restaurant or you are on your phone looking down at the screen, away from your baby, they miss out on all that.”

Parents are missing those ‘mini moments’ with their toddler or child because their heads are down and eyes cast on their tablet or screen.

“A child could be saying to their parent ‘look at that butterfly, mom.’ But mom is engrossed in texting and ignores the repeated requests.”

In fact, often parents are feeling interrupted by the child and respond in anger and frustration.

“That mini moment of experiencing that butterfly fluttering in front of your child was missed.

“It’s just a moment but it adds up. In the end, it is affecting the relationship between the child and parent.”

Pediatricians and child psychologists are saying distracted parenting is leading kids to act out in negative ways to get their parents’ attention.

“As parents connect to technology, and as they allow their children to connect to technology, at an alarming rate and intensity, they disconnect from each other,” said Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, child psychologist and owner of The Wishing Star Lapointe Development Clinic.

“The essential tangible connectedness of the parent-child relationship is disrupted by the interference of technology. The result is a child who is less settled and less able to regulate, and thus is more susceptible to behavioural challenges like anxiety, mood disruption and other mental health issues down the road.”

Lapointe believes parents who are less ‘present’ and available could see their children seeking connections with technology rather than with people.

American psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair wrote a book about the phenomenon, called The Big Disconnect. She interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of four and 18, asking them about their parents’ use of mobile devices.

Many responded with the words, ‘sad, angry, mad.’ Some took great joy in throwing the devices in the toilet.

One girl said she felt like she is boring to her dad ‘because he will take any text, any call, anytime — even on the ski lift.”

Boecker said the LCDC has seen a shift of the kind of referrals it gets over the past decade or so.

“A dozen years ago, most of our referrals were children with physical and cognitive health issues.

“Now were are seeing way more children who have difficulty self-regulating, have behaviour issues, anxiety and aggression.”

While there is no evidence of a direct correlation to our time with technology impacting their behaviour, there is a spike in children with emotional and behaviour issues.

But this discussion isn’t all doom and gloom, stresses Boecker and the Langley Early Child Development Committee.

“This is just about being more aware of our smartphone use around our children,” Boecker suggests.

When going to the playground with your child or restaurant, make a point of putting your phone away or flip it to airplane mode to remove your temptation.

Be present with your child as much as you can, having face-to-face time.

Make meal time a phone-free zone.

“Eye to Eye not eye to iPhone.”



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