While waiting for the arrival of their baby, many parents spend hours scouring the internet for the most educational toys, invest in top-of-the-line baby monitors and survey fellow parents about the best schools and daycare in the area.
Every parent wants what’s best for their child. Lucky for them, this always on, super connected age means there is more than enough stimulation to go around. But how much is too much?
The device you’re reading this article on has drastically changed the world we live in. Whether it’s a smartphone, laptop or tablet, advancements in mobile and digital technology have revolutionized the way we communicate with one another.
A parent’s best friend
Never before have parents had this much information in the palm of their hand. From child rearing and teething advice to information about that weird rash, parents can Google their way to an answer faster than ever.
Nothing takes the place of good primary care of course, but now parents can be armed with information well before they walk into the doctor’s office.
Advancements in technology have also given parents tools like instant read thermometers, digital baby monitors with accompanying apps, 3D ultrasounds and no shortage of stimulating games and programs aimed at children.
Thanks to social media, parents also have an instant link to a community, no matter where they are.
“We are meant to raise children in the context of community,” says Dr. Mike Troy, medical director for behavioral health services at Children’s Minnesota.
Because of smartphones and social networking sites, parents can stay in touch with family and friends, or find a community of people with a shared parenting experience.
In many ways, parents don’t have access to the social supports they once did, says Dr. Troy. The internet is helping to fill those gaps.
Your child needs face time — the real kind
While high-speed internet and cutting-edge digital technologies sure do make ourlives better, a baby really needs just one simple thing: You.
The best toy or teacher a child will ever have is its own parents and caretakers.
Kids are like little sponges. They watch you, they study you, they soak up every piece of information they can find and store it for later. In fact, 80 percent of a child’s brain develops in their first three years. What they learn during this time will help them evolve into who they become later.
“There’s nothing that digital technology provides that’s more important than the basic interactions between a parent and their child,” says Dr. Troy.
Parents are a child’s guide through life – the behavioral touchpoint against which they measure everything. It’s no secret our kids turn out just like us; they’ve been front-row students to our lessons all along.
When you play with your children, read to them, sing and comment on the world around them, you’re helping them learn to make a connection between themselves and the rest of the world.
This face-to-face time is also integral for helping children learn things like humor, delight, frustration tolerance, self-regulation and non-verbal communication. The only way a child can learn these things is through human interaction.
Technology has changed the way we parent
It may be tempting to prop your kid in front of a screen or hand over your smartphone every time they get fussy. However, Dr. Troy stresses that a child needs this time to connect with you and to learn how to play, create and entertain themselves. If they become reliant on a device to distract them, then that’s a problem.
Instead, use this as an opportunity to engage with your child one on one. Comment on their surroundings, react to what they’re doing and play games. Not only does this help build the parent-child bond, but it also sets them up for success throughout their life.
“The quality of the relationship drives the quality of the development in that child,” says Dr. Troy.
Of course, we live in a digital age where screens are ubiquitous. Digital technology is not evil — it’s an integral part of our lives. It’s all about modeling moderation and teaching children the value of these devices.
Make screen time a scheduled, special event. Watch a movie together as a family, tune in to a favorite program or gather for the game. As a parent, it’s also important to take time to yourself to read or work quietly, resist the urge to multitask with a phone and give your child your undivided attention.
As kids get older, set an even bigger example. Have regular, device-free family time and keep smartphones off the table at dinner. Read a book together, go for a bike ride or a hike, and play a board game as a family.
If you keep your face glued to your phone all the time, then your kids will think they can too. So demonstrate healthy behaviors via your own actions. After all, they’re watching.