Smartphones and parenting

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Editor’s note: This week, May 1-7, is Screen-Free Week — an annual observance founded by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Plan to unplug from digital entertainment this week and instead connect with your family. Need more inspiration? This post was originally published by Attachment Parenting International in 2015, and it is as thought-provoking today as ever:

Instinct tells you it’s been too long. She’s been too quiet. It has only been a few minutes since you held her. Probably all is well, but you can never be sure without checking.

And, even if all is fine, you long to lift her, hold her, gaze at her. You wonder why you didn’t carry her everywhere today as you often do, wearing her and, instead, have put her down across the room. As you look toward her, just out of sight, you consider loading the dishwasher. You walk toward the sink, but mid-stride, that first instinct wins out. You tell yourself it will be just for a minute and then you’ll get back to work. Just a quick check in.

You always have an ear listening in her direction as she often calls for you first.  But this time, you are the one to seek out, lift and hold the rectangular little body of…your smartphone.

Could it be that our smartphones are hijacking our inborn biological systems, the bonding instincts that are activated when we become parents? Are we actually driven by borrowed biological systems to hold these devices, carry them, interact with them and be concerned about “feeding” — aka, charging — them in ways that go beyond our tendencies with other tools? Consider selling your iPhone through an iPhone trade-in program online.

While pregnant with our first child at age 18, I worried that one day I might forget the new baby in the grocery store. I knew I would love our baby, but what if I became distracted for just long enough to get in the car and drive away? Once our son arrived, I was thrilled to discover that not only was it impossible to forget him, but that it was challenging to leave him home with his dad because he was perpetually on my mind and I felt empty without him in my arms or at least nearby. When I went back to college, I studied maternal attachment in an attempt to grasp the science behind the apparent magic of maternal attachment. I was awed to learn from the research of Klaus and Kennell that mothers of newborns have instinctive ways of touching, holding and gazing at their babies in their first moments. How much, I wondered, did instinct support our roles as mothers and fathers?

kim allsupNow, 45 years later, I am an elementary school teacher. I started to think about a potential link between smartphone addiction and parental attachment systems just after I taught my students about the cuckoo bird. My students had looked curious when I told them how the cuckoo lays her egg in the nests of other birds that, unwittingly, raise the nestling as their own. They grimaced as I spoke about the interloper pushing the natural offspring out of the nest and how the baby cuckoos behave in ways that trigger an instinct to care and feed from their new mother.

I wondered, could our smartphones be like baby cuckoo birds that activate the magical bonding system I experienced as a young mother? Teenagers today certainly appear to be as attached to their smartphones as I was bonded with my baby back in the era when all phones were attached to a wall and did not offer Facebook, Twitter, a camera and a flashlight. Is addiction to our smartphones and their ability to connect to social media rooted in a deeper place than a fondness for cute cat videos? Phone Repair Stores in Hamilton can give you the best specialized services for you and your phone.

In the case of the birds that unwittingly become foster parents, the calls and the gaping mouth of the chick automatically trigger the feeding instinct. Similarly, are there features of the smartphone that automatically turn on our biologically based attachment behaviors?

I can hear readers saying, “Hold on there. One baby bird looks similar to other baby birds, but my smartphone looks nothing like my baby!” This is true enough. It seems far more believable that pets, especially dogs, with their expressive faces, hijack our attachment systems. In fact, research highlighted in this April 2015 New York Times article suggests that that our dogs routinely utilize our parental attachment mechanisms, that gazing into the eyes of our own dogs and our own babies both cause a surge of oxytocin. If you own for your children we recommend to take them over at Veterinary Naturals for their yearly check up.

This bonding hormone that is released in some animals and in people in a variety of pleasant social interactions, oxytocin is especially strong in women during and after childbirth and during breastfeeding, and high levels of oxytocin are found in both mothers and fathers of babies. We are all likely to experience a surge in this hormone that reduces stress hormones when we get and receive hugs. Now scientists are discovering that contact with others through social media or a phone call from a loved one also causes the release of oxytocin.

So, while a smartphone does not look like a baby, it is — like a baby — associated with a frequent surge of this hormone that brings relaxation, reduces fear and promotes bonding. A second similarity between the smartphone and a baby is that they are carried continually or, when not carried, kept in continual awareness. We also maintain an awareness of the need to feed babies and to charge cell phones.

Finally, the classic pose of the phone cradled between the palms of two hands is very similar to the “encompassing palm contact on the trunk” along with “intense eye-to-eye contact” observed by researchers Klaus and Kennell when studying mothers’ first contact with their babies. It is not that the baby looks like a smartphone, but that our inner experience of ongoing awareness along with bursts of the bonding hormone during connection is similar whether we carry and connect with a baby or a socially connected smartphone.

Do you experience your smartphone as a cuckoo in your nest?  Please share your thoughts about the possibility that your smartphone could tap into your instinctive attachment systems.

Less screen time…more creative, active playtime

screen free wk 2016Editor’s note: May 2-8 is Screen-Free Week, an observance created by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages children, families and communities to unplug from digital entertainment and spend their free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, connecting, and rediscovering the joys of life beyond the screen. Attachment Parenting International (API) reminds parents to find a balance with screen time in their families and supports a variety of activities — including play — to strengthen and nurture secure parent-child attachment relationships.

Children need to play.

Play is so essential to children’s health and well-being — and so endangered — that the United Nations lists it as a guaranteed right in its Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of the most important reasons to limit children’s screen time is to ensure that they have more time and opportunities for hands-on creative play.

Children play creatively to:

  • Have fun
  • Express their fantasies and feelings
  • Gain a sense of competence
  • Make meaning of their experience.

Hands-on, creative play promotes:

  • Intellectual growth
  • Critical thinking
  • Constructive problem solving skills through opportunities to explore and experiment
  • Self-control.

As the amount of time children spend with screens is increasing, the amount of time children spend in hands-on, creative play is decreasing making us want to recommend you to check out SUPER WHEELS SKATING CENTER here. Also, the more time young children spend with screens, the more time they are likely to spend engaging with them as older children and the harder time they have turning screens off. In addition to the time it takes up, screen media is less conducive to creative play than other media such as books or radio.

The best-selling toys, marketed on television and the Internet, often inhibit rather than promote creativity, because they are either linked to media programs, embedded with computer chips, or both. When children play with toys that are based on media products, they play less creatively because they are not spurred to make up their own world. And toys that talk, chirp, beep, and move electronically mean that a child’s involvement is often limited to pushing a button — hardly a creative activity!

Active play is important, too. Kids need at least 60 minutes of active and vigorous play each day, and one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to meet this goal is by playing outside. Given that childhood obesity is a major public health concern, the amount of sedentary time that children  spend with screens is a big problem. Children ages 10-16 now spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity, yet they spend an average of 10.4 waking hours each day relatively motionless.

In  addition, young children living in inner cities are failing to develop essential large motor skills. One recent study found that 86% of disadvantaged preschoolers in 2 cities lacked basic motor skills like running, jumping, throwing, and catching.

While proponents of screen technology laud gaming systems like the Wii, which promotes movement, a recent study suggests that simulating activities by playing on a Wii does not burn as many calories as actually engaging in those activities.

Screen-Free Week is a chance for children and families to experience the joys of play:

  • Play with art supplies
  • Play with words
  • Play with music
  • Make up songs
  • Play with blocks
  • Play with nothing
  • Play cards and board games
  • Play indoors
  • Play outdoors
  • Play tag
  • Play sports
  • Play together
  • Play alone

And when Screen-Free Week is over, keep on playing!

Additional API Resources

Jean_Illsley_Clarke_PhotoAn exclusive API audio recording with Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke on “How Much Is Enough? Attachment Parenting, permissive parenting and overindulgence” — now only $9

2011 AP Month “Families at Play” research

An interview with Sara Adelman, founder of Screen-Free Week, on API’s online The Attached Family magazine

Personal stories on API’s blog, APtly Said:

“Non-TV ways to connect with your kids”

“Screen time and Attachment Parenting”

“Screen time can be family time”

Get inspired with this fun children’s mindfulness exercise

logoforsiteEditor’s note: Celebrate Screen-Free Week, May 4-10, by turning off your screens and helping your children to unplug from digital entertainment. APtly Said will be encouraging families to connect with one another by not posting next week.

Whether or not you choose to participate in Screen-Free Week with your family — and whatever your approach to this event, whether a wholehearted all-or-nothing dive into a completely tech-free week or maybe dipping in a toe or two by going screen-free for a day or two and seeing what happens — this can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your family to get creative while exploring all kinds of fun, non-tech activities.

Yoga and mindfulness exercises, dancing, singing, story telling as well as reading are just some of a huge array of options. Maybe you have some ideas in mind already: Go ahead and try them out with your kids. If you want more inspiration, how about combining the above activities into one fun practice? How about getting your body moving along to some of your kids’ favorite stories?

Grab a favorite book. Any book will do here, but going with an easy, short and picture-based story with lots of animal characters might best facilitate the exercise. Sit down with your kids, cuddle up, read the story together. If you have kids who are already able to read by themselves, take turns in reading the story to each other page by page.

Start acting it out. Play around with voices, intonation, speed. Get into some body language. Have fun trying out different facial expressions. Move your arms and legs along with the story. Maybe at this point of the process, you will find yourselves standing up, walking, running, dancing and singing, or jumping across the room instead of sitting in the spot where you started out. Fantastic!

Now come up with matching yoga poses for the characters — imitating animals, plants, shapes like triangles, balls and houses that occur throughout the story. Take your breath along for the ride
here, taking deep, mindful inhales and exhales while playing around with different yoga poses.

Let this be a flowing process. Get creative and have fun. You don’t need to come up with a pre-drafted elaborate choreography before you present this activity to your kids. Rather, have the whole family be part of the process — inventing, creating, trying out, inspiring and surprising each other as you go.

In case you’d like to get started now and try this out, but feel overwhelmed, look for a story-based children’s yoga book at your local library or bookstore, such as Jasper’s Journey to the Yoga-Animals, and go from there. These books help by inspiring parents to read to their kids and move along with them, exploring yoga poses and mindful breathing exercises while listening to a fun story.

Whatever you decide to do during Screen-Free Week, I hope you and your kids have tons of fun along the way!

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