Screens surround us, and they’re impossible to avoid. But just how does that screen-dependence interfere with our ability to be active, engaged parents? A life that revolves around checking social media, sending texts, taking pictures, and scrolling news articles can really distract parents from meaningful interactions with their children. As the new year begins, it might be time to be more intentional about putting down the phone when it’s time to play with your little ones!
Although child development experts recommend no screen time for children under 2, it seems that just as big of an issue is the role of parents’ screen time. Engaged, in-tune parenting can’t happen when caregivers are constantly distracted by their phones. While more mothers stay home or work at home, physical presence with their little ones doesn’t always equate to emotional presence. We are living in an age of constant partial-attention parenting.
Babies especially learn from engaged, responsive parents. There’s a beautiful “conversation” phenomenon that occurs between parent and infant in which the infant coos or laughs and the parent responds. Oftentimes, parents will speak in a high-pitched, simplified manner with energy and enthusiasm. Babies and toddlers respond well to this communication style, especially when coupled with face-to-face interaction. Children who are exposed to this type of communication on a regular basis tend to have a larger vocabulary than their peers by the end of toddlerhood.
The conversational flow is what’s important, and when it’s broken, the child struggles to learn. The natural vocal patterns, facial cues, and tonal changes that occur during parent-child exchanges can be negatively influenced by a quick check of Facebook, a reply to a text, or answering a FaceTime call. Parents who are immersed in technology spend less time engaging in verbal and nonverbal interactions with their children. Constant interruptions from smartphones and screens can hinder a child’s language learning and cognitive development.
Distracted parenting is slowly pulling parents away from quality time with their children.
Occasional inattentive parenting is normal and to be expected. Modern parents are constantly pulled in many directions with competing responsibilities. Allowing your child to play independently for a period of time is helpful for their developing sense of autonomy. Don’t feel guilty if you need to make a phone call, put away laundry, or respond to an email. It’s the continuous distracted parenting that can do true harm.
Here’s how you can balance technology and quality interaction as you connect with your children this year:
1. Use the “do not disturb” feature. Many phones have a “do not disturb” feature you can set for a period of time that will silence notifications. Utilizing this feature throughout the day can help minimize distractions and allow you to focus on your little one.
2. Save screen time for nap time. While it’s ideal to avoid screens around your baby, it’s impossible to truly avoid them altogether. One habit you might start this year is saving your phone use for when your baby is napping (or eating). You can take some time for yourself and scroll through Facebook and Instagram while your baby is already busy doing another activity and doesn’t need your undivided attention.
3. Set up independent play activities for your little one. If you need to make a call or send an email, consider setting up some independent play activities for your child. Put out some wooden blocks and toy animals, get out some train tracks and trains, or set up an art station with paper, crayons, and markers. If your little one is still a baby, put her in the swing or on an activity mat and turn on some relaxing music. Independent play is an important developmental skill for children too, and can allow you to get some tasks done without feeling like you’re not giving them the attention they need.
4. Keep the television off during the day. As tempting as it is to use the television for background noise, it can distract you from your child. Excess screen time is not recommended for children under 2. If you feel like you need some background noise, turn on some gentle music for you and your baby to listen to. Save your television shows for when your baby goes to bed.
5. Swap mindless scrolling for listening to music. Being a mom isn’t always exciting and adventurous, and it can be easy to feel stuck in the monotony of day-to-day tasks. If you find yourself scrolling through your phone simply because you’re bored, try swapping that for listening to a good radio station or podcasts. You can still interact with your baby while listening to something positive in the background. Don’t feel limited to “kids” music either; babies can benefit from listening to a variety of genres and styles.
Incorporating these changes into your daily routine can help shift your parenting from distracted to engaged. Babies and toddlers crave a parent’s attention, and it’s vitally important for their growth and development. Parenting in the age of technology can be incredibly difficult, but small changes to your lifestyle can really increase the quality of your interactions with your little ones.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.