With the advent of smartphones the world is always at our fingerprints. We’ve moved away from paper books to Kindles, from newspapers to a news app on our phone, from shopping in stores to shopping online. On the morning commute on the train, while waiting in line, or while waiting for our kids on the playground, we whip out our phones and “catch up” with our emails or Facebook. It’s no surprise then that our children are obsessed with the same technology and would much rather indulge in that than engage with the world around them.
It often begins with allowing children to watch an episode of a favorite show on T.V. to distract them long enough to get a meal in. Not only is the child getting hooked to a screen, but also learning unhealthy eating habits and the concept of using food as a controlling tactic. It progresses to using an IPad to keep the child quiet in a restaurant or a waiting room or an airplane. Or maybe, understandably, the parent needs a break and the T.V./Ipad is a helpful diversion. The justification often is that there are lots of educational apps and that’s what is allowed. However, most often, there is still some level of guilt on the part of the parent for exposing their child to too much screen time. The question is how do we fix the situation so children don’t forget how to socialize with the world?
The fact is that this requires a tremendous amount of patience. Essentially, the screen needs to be replaced by something equally entertaining. This is tough because most things screen related release dopamine, the happy chemical, in the brain. Since human interactions are the only source that can come close to competing, the pressure falls on the caregiver.
Entertaining children with toys, books and every day surroundings consistently is critical during the first few days. Teaching them how to play with toys in different ways, reading books in an engaging way, and pointing out interesting sights around them is important. All of this is done with a goal to encourage creativity since creative play is the foundation of learning. Eventually, children will relearn how to play on their own while using their imagination. But until then, the parent or caregiver needs to persist and resist the temptation to rely on the IPad even if it for just a few minutes. It’s not possible to wean off an addiction if the substance is still accessible.
Modeling behavior is essential- parents need to put the phone away when the children are present. It would benefit everyone to spend more time focused on each other than on the outside world – it leads to brain growth, improved social skills and enhanced relationships.