Is anyone ‘tuning in’?

October 14, 2014

I read with interest an article in The Age (Sunday 4/10/2104) by American Paediatrician Jane Scott, titled Parents, down phone and listen, which highlighted issues associated with parents who use social media, whilst caring for children. Scott notes that when carers constantly use social media in the presence of their children there are frequent breaks in eye contact with the child, and often long periods of downcast eyes.

Scott believes high levels of inattention impact upon young children who may, as a result exhibit temper tantrums and separation anxiety, while older children may resist discipline.

Scott quotes results from Boston Medical Centre researchers who carefully observed caregivers and their children at fast-food restaurants earlier this year. More than 70% of the caregivers were using mobile devices, and their absorption was judged such that the ‘primary engagement was with the device, rather than with the child’.

This startling statistic made me think about the importance of capitalising on opportunities to engage meaningfully with children and to model interesting two-way conversations. Genuine interactions not only help to develop oral language and social skills but are likely to strengthen emotional regulation, working memory and attention skills.

When my two-year-old granddaughter talks to me and I give her my undivided attention, apart from cementing a strong bond between us, I see evidence that thoughtful responses help to enhance her cognitive and linguistic growth, when she re-uses my phrases or elaborates on my contributions or her ideas.

The challenge for the modern parent (and teachers) is to balance appropriate use of 21st century tools with face-to-face, genuine and engaging conversations about stimulating topics or content. This can only develop in the first instance where the adult gives the child their undivided attention. In regards to social media, one simple alternative is to generate conversations, interactions and thoughtful discussion through appropriate inclusive activities where there is a sharing of the screen between adult and child.

Murray Evely, Guidance Officer and Psych4Schools Psychologist

Image by Clearfrost, Montreux #8, Some rights reserved. Accessed on Flicker, 2014