I was watching my grandchildren at the park recently, sitting near a young mother who appeared absorbed in a game on her phone while her two young children played on the equipment. The children called out time and again, as children do, “Look at me, mom!” “Watch this!” to no avail. The mother did not look up once; she did not even appear to hear her children’s words. Finally, after about an hour, she put her phone away, stood up, and said, “Time to go!” She responded with irritation when her children acted as if they did not hear her.
Most parents have learned to monitor their children’s“screen time” because they believe too much of it is unhealthy. But let’s be honest – what about the effect of our use of technology on the welfare of our children?
Facebook, games, email, chat, twitter; these activities call to us and absorb us and can easily override our children’s attempts to engage us in face-to-face chatter and smiles. Infants are born with a deep desire for love and connection with their parents; they coo and gurgle and smile, seeking to engage and entice their parents to fall in love with them. They literally become depressed and give up on relationships when their efforts fail and they are faced with emotional abandonment. What is the consequence to developing personalities and neurology for infants who get minimal face-time from the adults with whom they are trying to develop a relationship? What happens to social and emotional development in children who time and again call out, “Watch me! Look at me, mom!” and find no response. Do they learn to attach to things instead of people? Do they in turn, seek connection through cyberspace as they get older?
None of us is immune to substituting screen-time for real face-to-face-time. We all have to stay mindful of the compulsion to stare at our phones, Ipads, and computers. Making time for face-time with our children now will pay off later, as connected children grow up to become emotionally healthy young adults.
–Debra Wesselmann, MS, LIMHP