Posts Tagged ‘ sustained attention ’

Is Your iPad Hurting Your Baby’s Brain?

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

I had a sitter the other night who the kids love. But this time they were antsy. Bored. They wouldn’t let me get ready. Emmett wailed when I tried to leave the room.

“Fine, you guys can watch a Super Why,” I said.

Yes, it was the path of least resistance. Yes, it was easier. But according to some new studies, there is a real danger in what I did.

Research is showing that kids who watch a lot of television and play on the iPad, iPhone, etc., are  growing up to have “sustained attention” problems. Now before you stop reading and think, “Yeah, yeah I’ve heard this before,” hear me out. There’s some really new–and interesting– information surfacing. You have to remember that middle and high school kids who are growing up with this modern technology are giving us more and more insight into what it all means and the impact it is having.   This is important stuff. Here’s the scoop:

When you walk in the door with your phone or text in front of your kid, you are sending a message to them that they aren’t as important (yes, we’ve heard that before). But you’re also sending a message that this device keeps your attention a lot of the time.  When’s the last time you sat in the doctor’s office doing nothing while waiting for your name to be called? Or just sat quietly, not on your phone, waiting for your take-out meal to be ready? How many times have you given the phone to your kid at a restaurant because you want to enjoy your meal? I’m guilty on all counts.

All of the above is teaching them that technology soothes. What’s happening is kids are losing the ability to “self-soothe.” They aren’t just sitting still, using their imagination. Kids need to be bored in order to figure out how to become “un”-bored. They need to misbehave to learn how to behave. If they are being difficult at a restaurant, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that giving them your phone is the wrong thing to do. Have them color or play some sort of game. Or leave and give them a time-out. Yes, your meal gets cut short.  It sucks. But giving them a phone when they whine is not in their best interest. Especially as they grow.

Here’s why:

The brains of infants through preschoolers begin making deep connections that teach them to use their imaginations and creativity to “soothe” for lack of a better word, when they’re bored. Researchers are now finding that kids who grow up watching television when they’re bored and playing on the computer/iPad, are getting to middle and high school and not being able to complete “boring” assignments. For example, if you have to read a boring book and write a term paper about it, which when I was in school, was a reality, you had to just push on through. Nowadays they are finding kids don’t have that deep connection to even get through the work. So academically many kids are hitting a wall. It’s a wall that apparently could have been prevented if parents hadn’t been so quick to let them watch a lot of television or play on the computer.

It then trickles into the work world. They get a job. They are bored. They quit. The consequences are dire.

My pediatrician gave me some tips.

  • Don’t even let your kids see the phone. Put it in your purse or your pocket when you walk in the door.
  • If you have to go send some emails, leave the room to do it. Tell them you have some work to do for a few minutes and to entertain themselves.
  • When you are with your kids, focus on them during the crucial times. She gave an example: 30 minutes of play, then dinner, bath, book, bed=NO PHONE.
  • No more than an hour of television a day.

(I’d say we usually let them watch 1 1/2 hours a day. On weekends more. Yikes).

  • No TV for kids under 2 (which I know we’ve heard and has been hotly debated by the American Academy of Pediatricians).

I’ve failed on that and now Em gets excited when Fia gets to watch a show, so I’m not backtracking. What I will do is cut down on the TV she is allowed to watch, so he naturally will, too. And honestly, he watches for about 10 minutes then leaves the room and plays with his cars or something.

The thought of my kids growing up not knowing how to use their imaginations to their full ability because their brains weren’t trained properly is really scary to me. I am not one to sit still and I’m not promising when I’m at the doctor by myself, that I won’t pull out my phone while waiting. But I don’t have to write term papers in 8th grade. My brain development is done. Actually I’d say it’s on the decline judging by my meat fiasco last week. So I take that back: Maybe I should work on sitting still and doing nothing. That’s what my meditation app is having me do. Okay, I’m going to make a commitment to do this.

My guest blogger Joe Deprospero decided to stop playing Words With Friends on this phone because he could feel the distraction it was causing at home. If we each decide to change one part of our technology lifestyle, think of the ripple effect that could have. Especially on our families. And you don’t have to go all or nothing. Just tweak.

I did cut down a lot on technology after I wrote about it last year. But this is a good reminder. Anyone else want to join?

Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions
Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions
Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions

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Pic of girl on iPad via Shutterstock

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