Missed opportunities: Put down the devices, engage with your child


Today's guest blogger is Anita Kulick, President & CEO of Educating Communities for Parenting in Philadelphia. ECP offers a variety of programs and services for teen and adult parents, adjudicated delinquent youth, young adults aging out of the foster care system, preschoolers, and children at grave risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.

My favorite diner is always packed and full of lively banter. It’s got good food for reasonable prices, and tables filled with couples, families and friends. On a rainy Sunday night recently, one group in particular stood out to me. At first glance, they seemed just like the others. They were actively engaged in conversations, laughing, and obviously enjoying each other’s company. Right in the center of the group was one little boy in a highchair who appeared to have the seat of honor. That was until I noticed the iPad he was holding.

Here was a little boy, surrounded by all these adults, and he was in his very own world watching a movie. He wasn’t paying attention to the grownups, and they weren’t paying attention to him. Everyone looked perfectly satisfied and content, and all I could think about were the missed opportunities.

There’s so much the digital universe provides us from entertainment to valuable professional supports. It’s no wonder most of us are addicted to it. It’s no longer an exception, but the norm to see families in restaurants with the adults making business calls or texting friends, while each child is playing a game on a different device. These kids are oblivious to what’s going on around them. They are completely focused on that little screen. It’s the same at the mall or supermarket or even the playground. While it’s unsettling to see adults so unengaged with each other, it’s devastating to see unengaged children.

Most parents know that too much screen time is not good for children. Overuse of digital devices by children can lead to:   

  • obesity
  • irregular sleep
  • behavioral problems
  • impaired academic performance
  • increased violence and aggression

The American Academy of Pediatrics adds that excessive use of social media, the internet, and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and highly risky behaviors.

Perhaps the most controversial media policy is the AAP’s recommendation of discouraging any media use by children under the age of two. The statement notes:

  • a lack of evidence supporting educational or developmental benefits
  • potential adverse health and developmental effects

And even more surprising, children under two can be:

  • adversely affected by parental media use (background media)

It’s clear that media use by children must be limited and monitored by parents and caregivers, but this is far easier said than done. The truth is that media has become a major factor in most of our lives. All you have to do is stop and think how often you check your phone for calls, email, and texts in the span of an hour.

Children, especially the very young, are remarkably observant and curious. As matter of fact, that’s one of their most important tasks – observing the world around them. This is especially true from birth to three years during which 90 percent of their brain development takes place. How can parents help to best enhance the developing brain? Certainly not with videos or educational computer games. Infants and toddlers learn best by watching the activity that surrounds them, listening, doing and exploring; but the most important lessons they learn come from their most important teachers – their parents. 

Simple everyday interactions are much more than they appear on the surface. They’re the countless everyday moments that not only support the growing brain, but set the foundation on which to build a loving solid parent and child relationship; the relationship that forms the basis for all future relationships. It’s the time for both of you to get to know each other. It’s the time to share in their joy as they explore the world and learn new things - to ignite a love of lifelong learning before they start “real” school.

You are their very first and most important teacher, and these ordinary moments provide the perfect opportunities for them to learn everything – from geography such as where fruits and veggies come from to safety rules such as red means stop, green means go.

So please, take a deep breath and for a little bit each day disconnect from the internet and reengage with that little person who thinks you’re the most important person in the world. Let your child know that he or she is the most important person to you!

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