Lots of research suggests that if possible, parents should keep little eyes away from screens. At the very least, most studies show that children under two should not be exposed to screens because the impact on their brains is pretty negative, and that after that, it’s smart to keep it to a minimum.
However- there’s little research on the impact of screens and parenting… and yet we all know how deeply cell technologies have shifted parenting practices. Most of us have thousands- if not millions- of photos that chronicle our children’s lives. We send them over text and post them to social media. And often, we share, view, and swipe on our digital devices while we are parenting.
I do it all the time- when things are really mundane, I just need a little freshness or to know that there are other mothers out there doing the same things as I am. Connecting is soothing, it helps me feel a part of a community raising children, and it makes me feel visible. What’s really interesting about this is that my desire to be part of something really big and relational and community oriented is mediated by a cell phone, and many researchers believe that that cell phone facilitating my connection to others is harming the connection I have with my children.
The issue is that while I’m filling my attentional needs through social media, my children are making bids for my attention, and I’m failing to respond. I think we need to complicate this: surely, women have long failed to respond to their children because they were preoccupied by other women, activities, work- whatever it was. However, I do think this challenge is symptomatic of late capitalism, even if I favor a more holistic view that incorporates technology as fundamental to our society over the blame-based model where social media is blamed for weakening relationships between parent and child.
The truth is, we all need connection: both children and adults require it. Children’s brains are developing, and they are also learning how to behave socially- and so connection with their parents is really important. However, mothers now spend more time with their children than they did in the 1960s! So what is going on?
Let’s take a step back and look at the systems: we live in a world that often requires both parents to work full-time, just to make ends meet. Families are often scattered across different cities and states. Financial stress, the sleek perfection of family life curated on social media, and in most of us, a deep desire for connection are part of the portrait that makes up our lives. It’s no wonder we reach for our phones and start to scroll, even when our children need us.
So what’s to be done about it? Start connecting. Put your phone away when you’re with your kids. Select activities to do with your children that you really love- activities that make your forget about your phone. Connect with others- attend groups and classes and playdates where there are other moms and other children. Build opportunities into your life where both you and your child receive the kind of connection you both crave, deserve, and need.
Be aware of your habits, but be gentle with yourself. It’ OK to want to be connected, and it’ a need you can fulfill in one of many different ways. So go fourth, and find your tribe!