Parental Involvement and Childhood Security

Let us not sacrifice our family and our relations for material things. It is not too late to return to authentic family life
"A recent study of families in fast food restaurants showed that 70 percent of parents were distracted by their devices during their meal." [File]
"A recent study of families in fast food restaurants showed that 70 percent of parents were distracted by their devices during their meal." [File] Wikimedia Commons / Eric Ward

I shall start this article with a case study which was shared with me by my friend.

“One evening when my wife was correcting her students assignments something happened that made her burst into tears. I was sitting nearby, playing with my smart phone. I asked what made her cry. She replied “Yesterday I gave my class an essay to write - ‘my wish’. The last essay touched me so much that it made me cry. One student had written that my parents love their smart phones very much, they dedicate so much time to them that they forget to enquire whether I have taken meals on time. When my parents come home from work tired, they have time for mobile phones but not for me. When my parents are doing some important work and the cell phone rings they attend to it immediately but they do not bother to respond when I am crying. They play with their smart phones but not with me. My pleas are left unnoticed. My wish is to become a smartphone. I asked my wife about the child. Her answer left me shell shocked when she said - our son.”

Let us not sacrifice our family and our relations for material things. It is not too late to return to authentic family life. Be a good example to your children.

A recent study of families in fast food restaurants showed that 70 percent of parents were distracted by their devices during their meal. In the meantime, their kids complained and misbehaved, throwing tantrums and spilled food on table.

The usage of smart phones has disturbed the population, with people barely able to make it through dinner without texting, tweeting or surfing online. Children need the attention of their parents, not just to survive but to thrive.

Parenting an infant doesn’t just mean meeting his or her needs by providing food, clothing and diaper changes. Results from the still-face experiments highlighted the possibly harmful emotional, social and developmental impact when a mother stops responding to her baby with appropriate facial expression.

Since then, other studies have further shown that affect mirroring, in which the mother interacts with her child with high levels of “attention maintenance, sensitivity and responsiveness” resulted in babies that ranked “high on pro-social behaviors and social expectancy, whereas infants whose mothers ranked low on affect mirroring ranked low on these measures.”

Think about the blank stare you give your cell phone. How often might your baby be looking to you for a response when your own face is non-expressive or clearly reacting to something else? Children seek contingent responses. They start mirroring parents’ facial expressions almost as soon as they are born.

They stare into their caretaker’s eyes, looking for a reaction. This response is what enables their brains to fire and wire. An attuned response from a parent or guardian allows them to feel both seen and secure, while also helping them to formulate their own social skills.

A lack of response from parents, who are persistently on their devices, could lead to ruptures in their attachment patterns. Attachment styles are built in early childhood attachments and later serve as working models for adult relationships.

A person’s model of attachment influences how he or she goes about getting his or her needs met. Sadly, parents who are distracted by their devices are hardly attuned to their children. They may very well miss the hurtful effect they are having by ignoring their child’s emotions.

They may even be hurting the child’s self-esteem. The children whose parents are engrossed with their mobile phones became considerably agitated, growing rowdier and misbehaving to turn their parent’s attention. And what do parents often do in response to their child’s frustration?

Unfortunately, they tend to hand their child the device, teaching them, in turn, to de-tune and disconnect, just as they have been doing. According to the study published in Journal of Pediatrics, “Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic gadgets. Research studies have shown that indiscriminate use of media can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, insomnia, eating disorders and obesity.”

Studies show that children who were exposed to television between ages 1-3 were more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by age 7. Apart from these developmental risks, there are the social and psychological influences to consider.

Plugging a child into technology may teach them that they can’t tolerate even a few minutes without entertainment. It may create a dependency that shifts them further from relying on face-to-face human interaction and even their own imaginations.

Furthermore, it may move children away from adopting the mindfulness skills that would lead them to a happier and healthier life. Mindfulness describes mental state awareness — a person’s attuning or sensitivity to the mind of another person. Mindfulness helps people to live more in the moment at a slower pace, with less stress and improved overall health.

If technology is taking us away from connection, then we may be raising a far less mindful generation, a more self-centered, narcissistic, easily bored generation.

Social intelligence skills have further been reported to be the best predictor of success in life, even better than IQ. These skills include knowing one’s emotions (self-awareness), managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others and handling relationships.

Could too much screen-time be robbing our children of the interaction required to build their social intelligence? As parents, asking ourselves these questions is important to raise our children in a digital age.

However, the answer is neither to get panic nor to surrender, assuming that there’s nothing we can do about it. What we can and should do is become more mindful in ourselves, to make it a point to be more attuned to our kids.

This doesn’t mean catering to their every whim or “over-parenting,” as our culture has tended to shift toward. It’s about making the time we have with our kids matter, putting down the mobile phone and really looking at our kids, listening to what they have to say and responding in a way that helps them to feel seen and heard.

And when it comes to technology, we must lead by example, showing them rather than telling them healthier ways to integrate these unavoidable “devices” into our lives.

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Coordinator Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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