By Tammy Gold
It is well documented that texting and smartphone use leads to distracted behavior—and not just when we’re behind the wheel. When it comes to caring for young children, constant cell phone use can cause problems ranging from an increase in accidents at the park because parents are fixated on their device screens to emotional disconnection that can lead to children pleading for attention and full focus. And we now know that the problems caused by distracted caregivers may not only be physical and emotional but cognitive as well.
Studies tell us that 90 percent of the human brain grows by the age of three. For the brain to grow, children need repetitive, positive interactions with their caregivers. They need someone focused on them, responding to their needs, listening to their babbles, and talking and babbling back. Recent research shows that these positive interactions not only create critical emotional attachment bonds, but they actually promote brain growth and the creation of neural pathways as well.
If babysitters, daycare workers, or nannies are on their smartphones, texting, emailing and otherwise distracted, they are not only stunting critical emotional bonding, but also cognitive growth. Sadly, most parents are unaware of how dangerous these distracted caregivers can be. They tend to focus on the child’s physical needs, such as being fed, clothed, and kept safe, but they are unaware of the “benign neglect” being committed as these equally important emotional and cognitive needs are overlooked.
As a parenting and childcare expert, I strongly believe that parents need to emphasize to their caregivers the importance of putting away their phones. I have seen it countless times—a nanny pushing a child on the swings in the park with her eyes on her phone, or care providers at daycare centers leaving the children alone while they check their messages in another room. Of course, not all caregivers do this. There are countless wonderful and attentive childcare providers out there. However, the ones that are on their phones and are distracted are failing the children with whose care they have been entrusted. Parents worldwide need to view smartphones as a direct danger to their child’s brain growth and demand that their child’s cognitive needs receive the same attention and care as the child’s physical needs. If a caregiver would think it cruel to withhold food all day, they must realize that by focusing on their smartphones, they are starving a child’s brain from the crucial interactions it needs to grow and thrive.
Achieving this cognitive growth is not expensive, nor is it complex. All it requires is for a caregiver to be looking into the eyes of a child, talking to him, responding to him, smiling at him, and engaging him all day long. In a world where parents purchase everything under the sun to make their children “smarter,” they need to understand that far more important than flashcards, expensive toys, or the newest apps is having caregivers—and parents—who are willing to put the phones down for good.
About the author: A licensed therapist and certified parenting coach, Tammy Gold (LCSW, MSW, CEC) is the author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide For Finding and Achieving The Gold Standard of Care For Your Child (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and founder of Gold Parent Coaching. A frequent guest expert on Good Morning America, Fox News, and CBS News, among others, Gold is one of the first therapists to bring traditional psychotherapy tools to the process of finding and enhancing the quality of childcare.