~ Connection Curious, on Twitter
A: Dear Connection,
This is yet another iteration of the most important question for parents in the Digital Age, one that will recur, in various forms, for both parent and child from infancy through adolescence. How do we maintain human connectedness in a full-connectivity environment?
Because such research requires the time for developmental outcomes to occur, we have little evidence that directly answers this question. We do, however, know that parent-child connectedness, the mutual, sustained, positive emotional bond between parent and child, may be the single most protective factor in a child’s life in terms of her physical health, mental health, and socialization as a member of a family and of the larger world. The human brain develops remarkably quickly during the first few months of life, and key to that development is the interaction with other people, particularly primary caregivers. The simple physical contact of being held and the visual contact of the parent-infant gaze during breast- or bottle-feeding can help build that connection. Research shows that face-to-face gazing between mothers and their children can positively affect their children’s moods and help them regulate their emotions. Even long after infancy, the parent-child gaze remains a powerful, primal source of nurture and strength for both.
Texting while feeding a baby diverts the caregiver’s attention away from the child. Although constant attention is not necessary, be mindful that feeding time is a unique (and fleeting) opportunity to spend intimate time with your child and help build this powerful connection. Staring at each other in silence can be calming, centering, and a great way to develop an understanding of your baby’s minute body cues, but is often difficult. Reading out loud, talking or singing to your infant, or engaging older children with her can help increase her language development while also building connectedness.
Remember, the challenge for us all is to strike a balance between media use such as texting and our human demands. Texting isn’t inherently bad—it can be an important tool for information-seeking and communicating, especially when a child is napping. Caregivers should try to limit their texting when with children so that they don’t miss out on the special things their children do and say and so that they don’t model disconnected and distracted behaviors for their children. Children learn more from what we do than what we say, so let’s stay connected with them and model connectedness with us and with the world.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,