The quality of child-parent relations is critical not just for emotional bonding, but also for learning of all types. (Tweet it!) So problems arise, says Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little, “when the emotionally resonant adult–child cueing system so essential to early learning is interrupted—by a text or a quick check-in on Instagram (https://bit.ly/2KsE7sm).”
In one experiment that tested the impact of parental cellphone use on children’s language learning, thirty-eight mothers and their 2-year-olds were brought into a room. The mothers were told that they would need to teach their children two new words (blicking, which was to mean “bouncing,” and frepping, which was to mean “shaking”) and were given a phone so that investigators could contact them from another room. When the mothers were interrupted by a call, the children did not learn the word, but otherwise they did. Other experiments have shown similar results.
Occasional parental inattention is not catastrophic, says Christakis, “…but chronic distraction is another story. Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them.”
Fixing the problem won't be easy, but Christakis offers a piece of good news: children are prewired to get what they need from adults, and young children will do a lot to get a distracted adult’s attention. Meanwhile, her advice: “Parents should give themselves permission to back off from the suffocating pressure to be all things to all people. Ditch that soccer-game appearance if you feel like it. Your kid will be fine. But when you are with your child, put down your damned phone.”
What do you do when both your child and your phone are competing for your attention? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
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