The amount of time our children spend indulging in screen time is frequent fodder for alarmist current affairs show and tabloid news items. Which is not to say it’s an unjustified concern. Overstated, maybe, but not unimportant.
The effects on infant minds as a result of the rise in screen time via iPad, YouTube and child-oriented apps and game is not as yet properly known or understood. We may well be in the midst of a disastrous social experiment without even knowing. Many of us comfort ourselves with the memory that as children 20 or 30 years ago, we would sometimes spend many hours in front of the television for entertainment. How different is it now?
But what the preoccupation with children and their screen habits obscures is the adult obsession with the devices of modern life.
As a recent piece in The Atlantic by Erika Christakis canvasses, much more potentially damaging to our children is “technoference” – a term used by some psychologists – whereby parents are distracted from fully engaged parenting because of their own screen time fixation.
Christakis quotes technology expert Linda Stone, who 20 years ago coined the term “continuous partial attention”, to characterise parenting that is constantly interrupted by app checking. The key problem here is the cumulative effect of these interruptions, resulting in parents missing or not paying full attention to the emotional cues provided by their infants, an essential parent-child interaction which is considered the foundation of a child’s learning.
While some parental inattention is always inevitable due to work or domestic commitments, the article identifies the problem as the “unpredictable care” otherwise present parents now provide as a result of our tech addictions.
Perhaps the starkest illustration of this was the finding by one economist that increased visits to hospital emergency rooms for children’s injuries correlated geographically with increased screen time adoption from smartphones.
But that finding is arguably less important than the potential emotional and developmental harm we are doing by being there… but not there. Is checking Instagram for the 24th time today really worth that price?
Read the full The Atlantic story here.
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