How many times do you check your phone in an hour, or a day? It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that when you spend a lot of time checking messages and browsing the Internet on your smartphone, you have less time to really focus on your child. Multi-tasking is another culprit that could inattentive parenting.
Previous studies have shown that children feel neglected and unimportant when their parents spend too much time on their phone. Not only that, parents who get easily distracted by alerts from their phones are setting up a bad example to their young. But if you do need another reason to unplug, or you might find yourself justifying your mobile use--here's one.
A new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry suggests that distracted parenting can have detrimental effects on babies' brain development, particularly their ability to understand pleasure.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, conducted the study on mice, not humans, to test the effects of distracted parenting. They placed two sets of baby mice in exactly the same ideal setting, except one cage lacked the essential materials the parent rat needed to build a proper nest. That was enough for the mom to often get distracted by looking for more suitable accommodations for her young, giving her baby mice less uninterrupted time and attention—and even if she spent time with them, she was worried and stressed.
As the mice grew, the researchers found that rats who received distracted attention from their mom ate and played less compared to the mice who grew up in the ideal setting and comfy nests. The lack of consistent, repetitive and reliable attention may have affected the mice’s ability to develop proper emotional connections to help them understand pleasure. Eating and playing are two measures of pleasure; both are also symptoms that could lead to depression if not addressed.
“It makes perfect sense. We do need rhythms and consistent exposure beyond the ears for them to be capable of discerning complex patterns in speech and music. We need patterns for the visual system to develop. I guess we need predictability and consistency for the emotional system to develop. Nobody looked at that before,” Tallie Baram, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and anatomy-neurobiology at University of California, Irvine.
While the study involved rats and not humans, researchers claim that the implications of the findings could be relevant to parents. As Lisa Rafel, Gary Malkin and David Surrenda, Ph.D., authors of Safe in the Arms of Love: Deepening the Essential Bond with Your Baby in their blog, “When a baby is days, weeks and months old, it can become extraordinarily inconvenient to be constantly needed for hands-on care and heartfelt attention. Yet this is exactly what babies need for a fulfilling, successful and emotionally satisfying life.”
Previous studies have shown how inattention and neglect can affect a child’s life. A study showed the neglected children had relatively smaller brains. Another study found that neglect can play a part in how a child’s brains develops. Baram and her colleagues are now turning their attention to human mother-and-child interactions, focusing on how consistency and patterns of a mother’s actions affect the child to get a clearer picture.
Of course, we believe that parents don't intentionally choose their smartphones over their kids. It could just simply brought the busy, techy life we live today, that working parents can office mail right on their fingertip. Still, it’s not an excuse. “There is nothing wrong with using our smartphone, as it is an ingenious device that allows us to do so many things from wherever we are. We should just not let ourselves get sucked by its addictive powers,” Mariel Uyquiengco of The Learning Basket writes in an article for smartparenting.com.ph.
So once in a while, unplug, take stock, and actually be with your kids. Being a distracted parent has its rewards not just for y our child, but for you as well.
Sources: January 7, 2016. “Parent Portal: Distracted Parenting May Have Adverse Affect On Children” (medicaldaily.com) January 6, 2016. “Cell-Phone Distracted Parenting Can Have Long-Term Consequences: Study” (time.com) August 14, 2011. “Turn Off Your Distractions and Turn On Your Baby's Future” (huffingtonpost.com)