Almost everyone seems to have a technology goal for 2020 and for a lot of parents it is to be on their devices less and be engaged in parenting more. Screenagers recently published the following article to help encourage parents to be more mindful of parenting while distracted on a device.
Last night I felt a serious pang of remorse. My son Chase called me from college. Frankly, I assumed it was a quick check-in or perhaps an ask of some sort. I was editing footage at the time, and well I kept editing while we talked. Over the course of the call, I realized he had called to really have a solid conversation. But by the time I realized it the call was soon ending.
When we hung up, I had a pit in my stomach. I realized I was only half listening. And, on top of that, it was pretty obvious I was not fully present by the tone of my voice, the cadence of my responses. It was strange but all on its own my mind started playing back to me my exact half-hearted responses and my delayed “yeahs.”
I miss him, and I’m kicking myself for not having pushed aside the computer mouse and focusing totally on him. I wanted to call him right back to apologize. That tends to be my usual response when I wished I had spoken or acted differently.
Instead, I thought I would just sit with the remorse and use it as a teacher when I start doing that again. If I could take back time, I would have pushed my chair back from my editing system, put my feet up on the desk, and indulged in the interchange.
Now, that said, I am not one to go around saying we have to drop everything all the time for our kids, that we can’t be distracted ever, and that we always have to model great screen time. The truth is, as adults, our work (navigating our homes, our workplaces, our projects, etc.) is often on screens, so our use will very often be different than our kids.
But of course, we can also work on modeling certain things as best we can, like rather than be half present to try and say things like “I am on a tight deadline can I call you back later tonight.” Or, “Hey, so glad you called, let me put my computer to sleep so I can be undistracted.” I wish I had said that second line to Chase when he called …. next time.
An international survey of over 6,000 youth aged 8 to 13 found that 32% reported feeling “unimportant” when parents used their cell phones during meals, conversations, or family time.
Meanwhile, of course, we adults (parents, teachers, family) can feel dissed when the young people we are with are staring at a device and ignoring us or doing the 50/50 like I was doing with my son. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, there’s a funny moment when an elementary school boy tells us how he doesn’t want to come down to dinner when his mom calls him because he is too engaged in his game. He says:
“When you click on a game, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. When your mom calls you for dinner, and you’re like, ‘one second,’ and then she keeps on calling and calling you, but you just don’t go. You just keep playing because it’s so interesting. More interesting than you having dinner or helping your mom.”
Not long ago, I listened to this really good episode of the podcast, Like A Sponge, which looked at screen time and youth. One segment of the episode really got under my skin. A preschool teacher, Tara, tells the show’s host that during the first week of preschool, she has always asked a parent or other care provider to be present for a couple of hours the first week of school. She asks them to show engagement to help their children begin their journey into schooling.
Tara says that in the past, parents would really engage. But over the past five years, something changed. Now, most of the parents sit near their kids and focus on their cellphones or laptops instead. Tara’s concern was that, “They [the parents] weren’t engaging with each other or the teachers” and that the parents’ disengagement was signaling to the toddlers that school is not interesting.
That image is so sad to me. And yet, of course, there are other ways to think about the situation. One could argue that perhaps this is what is ideal for the kids—to have parents doing their own thing so that children get a message that this is their new place. They need to discover the play-objects and friends, and their parent is close in case they need them.
I worry that the signal to the toddlers is more negative than positive. It would be ideal to have studies that looked at how those toddlers did at the school a few months later compared to toddlers at the same school before parents were on phones during that first week.
It’s a magical time of year and shopping is in full swing. Tech gifts are always popular – but what else could we fill stockings with? Screenagers shared the following article with some non-tech gift ideas.
This time of year, everyone is busy running around trying to find the perfect gift. What people don’t realize is you often don’t need to go to a store to find it. Giving experiences can have a longer-lasting and greater impact than giving the latest toy, gadget, or piece of clothing. Experiences promote connectivity, togetherness, and lifetime memories, whereas, the latest and greatest thing has a shelf life, which is usually six months to a year until the next greatest thing comes out.
If you buy gifts, make unwrapping fun. Put wrapped boxes inside bigger boxes, so they have to unwrap all of them to get to the present. If you get a newspaper look for a comic strip page that you can use to wrap the inner boxes. Another fun experience is making it a scavenger hunt. Hide gifts around the house and write clues. Your kids will have to figure out where the gifts are, based on the information you give. One of the women in our office has done this with her kids since they were small. Now teens, they still love the experience of figuring out and finding their gifts.
One last thing I wanted to leave you with is what people shared with me on Facebook about the non-tech gifts they are giving this year:
The holidays are in full swing, which bring both happiness and occasionally stress and anxiety. The Help Group’s Advance LA work gives advice on how to reduce holiday stress below.
November brings the start of holiday fun and excitement! But despite the joys of the season, many people find themselves feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the holiday season’s extra activities, social and familial demands, and general stress.
Most of us try to load up our already busy schedules while worrying about attending to our normal duties. With all of these higher expectations on us, it is easy to feel robbed of what should be a holiday season filled with joy, love, and wonder. So what to do?
Here are some strategies for decreasing feelings of holiday stress and increasing your enjoyment of the holiday season:
1. Practice Planning And Organizational Skills:
2. Create Reminders To Help You Stay On-task With Your Calendar
3. Create A Plan of Attack To Use Every Time You Need To Complete A Big Task Such As Making Plane Reservations or Party Planning:
3. Know Your Productivity Cycle
Above all, remind yourself to practice self-care! Schedule in down-time in your schedule so that you have time to relax and unwind.
And if you do feel that your level of stress is draining away the fun of the holidays, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or life coach. Talking with someone is a great way to relieve anxiety and stress. And remember, it takes strength to ask for help when you need it.
If you have a loved one struggling with the holidays, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.
With Halloween just around the corner we wanted to remind everyone of safety tips. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
ALL DRESSED UP:
CARVING A NICHE:
HOME SAFE HOME:
ON THE TRICK-OR-TREAT TRAIL:
A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
Have flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind Trick-or-Treaters:
Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
Remember reflective tape for costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
Carry a cellphone for quick communication.
Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
Never cut across yards or use alleys.
Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out of driveways.
Don’t assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn’t mean others will!
Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.
HALLOWEEN AND FOOD ALLERGIES:
Technology is used on younger and younger kids these days. But what is the long term impact? In the article below, Cris Rowan a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”, explores the effects and what we should do to as parents. If you have a loved one struggling with managing screen time, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.
Screen Tips for Tots is the first of a research referenced series on the impact of screen technologies on child body and brain development. Written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of the book “Virtual Child”, Screen Tips will provide parents, educators and clinicians with research evidence which supports regulated and graduated use of screen technologies with children. Foundations for optimizing body and brain development across the age span from 0-18 years are discussed to help readers best understand the impact of screen technologies at different stages in development, and a variety of home, school and community initiatives are proposed to create sustainable futures for all children. The first article in Screen Tips series called Screen Tips for Tots focuses on the 0-3 years age group and is directed toward parents, daycare and preschool educators, and early intervention clinicians.
The majority of mammalian species gestation takes place primarily in the womb, with the ‘infant’ spending very little ‘training’ time with its parents after birth prior to entering the world to fiend for itself. Not so for humans. After 9 months inside their mother, humans get an additional 18 years of parenting to prepare them for adulthood. During this long period, infants become toddlers, toddlers grow into children, followed by tweens, teens, and finally emerge competent and confident to enter the world as independent beings. The level of self-sufficiency, well being and resilience achieved during these formative years is impacted to some degree by genetic make-up, but more so by the environment in which the child was raised. Enriched environments with stable, predictable and loving parents rich with essential developmental components including freedom to move, intentional touch, human connection and exposure to nature create a child who can grow and succeed (see Building Foundations graphic below). Impoverished, screen-centric environments with unpredictable and disconnected parents, create a much different child, a child who will struggle with meeting developmental milestones feeling insecure, anxious, and depressed. Clearly, the ways in which we are raising and educating children with screen technologies are not sustainable (see Virtual Futures graphic below). Understanding child body and brain development at different stages is essential to comprehend the profound impact of sedentary, isolated, overstimulated and neglected environment caused by screen overuse.
When an infant is finally born at 9 months gestation, they have already formed their full complement of neurons visualized as interconnecting ‘roads’ which traverse to every region of the brain. From birth to death, two neurodevelopmental processes take place based on the environment surrounding the child; pruning and proliferation. Neuronal pruning is a ‘brain efficiency’ process where the neuronal tracks which are used are preserved, and the tracks that aren’t used are cut or pruned, making the brain more efficient. The adage “Use it or loose it” rings true in brain development theory which is accelerated in young children tapering off in adulthood. Neuronal proliferation is a ‘brain connectivity’ process where the neurons grow synaptic connections between neurons effectively connecting the whole brain in the shortest distances possible. Between the ages of 0 and 2 years, an infant’s brain triples in size with a rapidity of pruning and proliferation which is truly remarkable. If the infant is immersed in an enriched environment of movement, touch, human connection and nature, neuronal pruning and proliferation will ‘wire’ the infant’s brain for optimal growth and future success. If the infant’s world is one of being ignored and restrained while watching screens strapped into bucket seats and strollers, neuronal pruning and proliferation will look much different. Overuse of screens at an early age wires infant brains instead for impulsivity and cognitive deficits, resulting in impaired attachment, attention deficit, poor self-regulation, and global developmental delays.
While brain wiring is somewhat ‘plastic’ throughout human life, neuronal damage caused by early overexposure to screens is permanent and consequently, cannot be reversed.
Toddlers require critical factors be met during critical time periods to achieve developmental milestones needed to for optimal growth and academic success. Four critical factors for the developing child are movement, touch, human connection and nature.
While most people are familiar with the cardiovascular benefits of movement regarding fitness, obesity and diabetes prevention, few think of movement and its impact on attention and learning. Movement activates two sensory systems which enable eventual coordination and literacy: proprioceptive and vestibular. The proprioceptive system located in the joints and muscles is activated by heavy work or resistance type stimulation such as pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying. Examples of proprioceptive rich activities are crawling, pulling to a stand, climbing up onto structures, or dragging heavy toys. Parents and educators who restrain toddlers by handing them a device limit proprioceptive development thus impacting foundations for eventual gross and fine motor proficiency needed for printing, reading and sports. The vestibular system (often referenced as the ‘inner ear’) located in the brain is activated by off-centre movement such as spinning, linear rocking, jumping, and swaying side to side. Examples of vestibular rich activities are rocking while holding toddler, bouncing on lap, careful tossing in the air, merry-go-rounds, swings and slides. Parents and educators who fail to allow unrestricted movement limit vestibular development thus impacting foundations for eventual motor coordination proficiency needed for printing, reading, and sports. Safety initiatives while essential should never replace the need for unrestricted movement.
When you hand a toddler a device, they sit; when you take it away, they get up and move. Children are designed to move, not sit.
Tactile stimulation is a biological necessity without which, children die. Essential for activating the parasympathetic system to reduce adrenalin and cortisol, when we touch other humans, we enact a soothing mechanism resulting in a secure and calm toddler. Touch is a form of communication emanating empathy and concern and lets children know how much we care about them. Cuddling and rocking infants and toddlers to sleep or during feeding has long-term benefits of sustained sleep, less colic, and less crying while awake. Many cultures carry their infants and toddlers wrapped on their bodies allowing constant touch and human connection. Parents and educators who don’t carry infants and toddlers, instead relying on soothing devices such as tablets and TV’s, vibrational or rocking baskets, jumping harnesses, or strollers, are depriving their children of life sustaining touch resulting in long-term insecurity and anxiety.
While soothing devices provide ‘short-term gain’ they will result in ‘long-term pain’ as the child is not getting what they need, caregiver touch.
When an infant is born into their family their “job” is to form an attachment with their primary parent, as this attachment will provide them with essential elements to survive. The baby learns quite quickly a variety of gestures to cue the parent to their needs, primarily crying, but also smiling, imitating, and responding to parent’s facial cues. How easily a baby settles into a sleep and feeding routine is reflective of how relaxed they are with their parental attachment. A baby who has all their needs met in a loving and reciprocal relationship early on in the ‘attachment dance’, doesn’t need to work as hard or worry as much about whether or not their needs will continue to be met. A baby who is repeatedly signalling their needs to the parent but the parent either neglects them or is unpredictable in their attentions, learns they need to work harder to get their survival needs met e.g. crying louder and longer, or alternatively, withdrawal. Every time a parent or caregiver picks up their cell phone or watches TV in the presence of an infant or toddler who is expressing themselves (smiling, crying), the child feels rejected, unseen, unheard. Rejection is a profoundly disturbing feeling which creates an impenetrable wall between parent and child completely derailing attachment formation and creating the foundations for a lifetime of misery and mental illness.
Biologically speaking, humans are ‘pack animals’ who don’t survive well when isolated from their pack. Put down your phone and pick up your kid.
When we recall our fondest most memorable experiences, we were often playing outside. Nature is rich in sensory stimulation, whether it be the gentle touch of wind on our face or grass under our feet, beautiful images of trees and flowers, or sounds of running water or waves. Being in Mother Nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system (as does touch) to lower adrenalin and cortisol and elicit peaceful calming and relaxation. Today’s children spend 95% of their time indoors with “fear regarding safety” cited by parents and caregivers as most frequent excuse for not taking children outside to play. While an infant or toddler would much prefer looking out a window than a screen, parents routinely give them the later. I was recently in a home with a young infant which contained a large screen and small window which looked out over a beautiful back yard and suggested moving the big screen to another room and enlarging the window. I envisioned the infant (now toddler) learning to stand by pulling herself up on a window ledge (proprioception) only to discover natures most wonderful attributes right in front of her eyes. Hours and hours of developmentally rich life enhancing entertainment would be available to her just by looking out the window instead of growing up in front of a screen. If we can manage to preserve Mother Nature and make sure children get outside more to enjoy her, nature will serve to be the healer, the ‘counter effect’ to damage caused by sedentary overstimulation from screens.
What we don’t value we can’t protect, and what we can’t protect we will loose. Take your children outside (or at least, give them a room with a view)!
Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth
The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child, Dr. Andrew Doan neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.
Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., collates research for the monthly Zone’in Child Development Series Newsletter, and writes a feature article for her blog Moving to Learn