Dr. Edward Tronick is Director of the Child Development Unit and Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is a research associate in Newborn Medicine. Lecturer at Harvard Medical School. An associate professor at both the Graduate School of Education and the School of Public Health at Harvard. A member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Past member of the Boston ‘Process of Change’ Group and a Founder and faculty member of the Touchpoints program who has been studying the effects of distracted parenting since the 1970s. His research has even greater meaning now in the age of social media. The ” Still Face Experiment” studied newborn babies up to 4 months engaging with their parent to see what happens to the baby when the parent does not respond to the baby’s attempts to interact. See the updated experiment( with dads) on the bottom page link.
The most recent studies show that children as young as 4 months showed signs of emotional distress much quicker after the experiment was repeated a second time. The experiment lasts about 3 minutes. And during that time we can see the babies show signs of high stress and even lose the ability to control their own bodies! More importantly, the study highlights each time the parent/child reunion happens the Reunion is less than the initial coming together! The joy, excitement, comfort, stability, and the beauty of that moment? All lessened with each impending interaction. And as a parent? That is all of the good stuff!
What happens as the distraction and inattentiveness are repeated is the beginning pattern of a loosened bond. Children show signs through their behavior of becoming weary, cautious, and sometimes even anxious. Will my mommy or daddy pay attention to me? Will they see all of the amazing new things that I’ve learned? Will they stay with me? So one can only imagine what this is like for a child who doesn’t get that beautiful reunion of the child-parent coming together again and doing the things that they normally do together? What’s Truly Happening inside of your child’s thoughts? What Impact will these repeated distractions and inattentiveness have on the Parent-Child Relationship? And most important? What Happens to all the Good Stuff?
Here’s What We Know…
We know that children can have difficulty trusting people in their world. That creates ADULTS who can have difficulty cultivating relationships! When a child doesn’t feel safe and secure? The ability to explore and learn can be impacted too! They often show signs of emotional distress in unfamiliar situations, becoming isolated from friends and family. With Prolonged exposure to distracted/disengaged parents having lifelong effects on their relationships.
Is this leaving them at a disadvantage in social, school, and workplace environments? Are our children a greater risk of physical harm from distracted parenting as parents miss a child’s attempt at risk-taking behaviors. Increasing the risk of falls etc? Maybe. But it is very important to recognize that multiple research studies have shown time and time again parents who are distracted by cell phones and other forms of digital distractions are MORE LIKELY to PUNISH their child more harshly for minor “typical” kid mischief!
In other words, distracted parents issue more harsh punishment for things that we expect kids to do or get in to! Will get into whether or not their parents are distracted! Stuff little kids do as they figure out what is ok and what is not! Which are in reality Natural teachable moments that happen everyday parents can use to share our values and make learning meaningful to our kids are being missed!
Think back to the important lessons that you remember as a child? Now. Why does that moment stand out for you? Take a minute. For me personally and I’m sure most of us mama’s out there. It was because it was REAL and RELATABLE for US! Important enough to remember that moment in time. So, it’s not a big leap to wonder what can happen to children if these moments are either met with harsh punishment or worse? Missed all together because we were distracted by social media. See A Child’s Take here…
Even in an ever-changing social dynamic. The need to interact in the future in public and private settings is an essential social skill set! Even one with mobile phones and technologies at the center of all things. And especially for families where distracted parenting is the norm.
Studies that have shown distracted parents often respond with anger at their child’s attempts for attention as we discussed. Instead of healthy engagement when the child is showing behaviors that tell us he/ she is emotionally fragile or stressed. When the child feels no one is listening or ” understands what we are going through” It creates an environment where it less likely for young children to trust the adults around them. Or those that they can keep them safe from harm. Us. And most importantly, it teaches them their questions and concerns aren’t worthy of being heard! The impact this will have on our society as these children move through life feeling isolated and alone is the only thing we cannot be sure of.
The lessons infants learn before they have fully developed their own vocabularies are the building blocks for their futures. Their interactions with others and the way they learn especially can be impacted by repeated consistent exposure to inattentive distracted parenting experiences. To put it simply. What we do today can have life long impacts on how our children think, behave and learn. How they see us as parents? And what they Think matters! It is the foundation for Trusting Parent-Child Relationships and sets the tone for all other relationships throughout life. Relationships with Friends, Co-workers, Authority Figures, etc all are rooted in the parent-child relationship. Will We Be Present or Distracted? The Choice is Yours to make! As for our Children, The Time is Now! And They Can not Wait!
3 Tips You can start TODAY to help you tune out, and Tune In! Part 3