Smartphones and Parents


Photo of mom using phone and ignoring her kids on the swings.There is a growing body of evidence that points to the detrimental effects of TV and video games on children’s development. This evidence raises the same concerns about cell phones and smartphones.

I was a late-adopter of cellphones—2004—and used a simple flip phone with no texting capability. The purchase marked my re-entry into the workplace and my children’s immersion into daycare at ages 3 1/2 and 2 1/2. As a lover of books and words, my children were awash in bedtime stories and cloth books. I knew that children acquired language by hearing it, so I pointed out everything on stroller walks. My toddlers were chatterboxes and talked in sentences by age 1. When we rode public transportation, passengers engaged my children in oohs and ahhs and the sort of lyrical talk-eye contact that has passed between the ages for eons; cell phones were still a rarity on the bus in those years.

iGot an iPhone

When I purchased my first Smartphone in 2010 (again a late adopter), everyone carried a cell phone on the bus. It was then I’d begun to notice some changes in behaviors among parents.

For example:

  • On one 45-minute bus ride, a young mother glanced up from her smartphone and at her two toddlers sitting next to her only once.
  • On a recent visit to a pediatrician, the waiting room was full of parents scanning their smartphones. Toddlers were digging into diaper bags, pulling out the devices, fiddling with the keys, and even gnawing on iPhones, like teething devices. There was very little interaction between children and parents.
  • At a playground, a father with a baby strapped to his chest talked on a cell phone for 5, 10 (I timed this), 15, 20 minutes while the baby stared patiently off into the distance.

If the building blocks of language development are conversations and the nonverbal exchanges that occur when an infant looks, reaches, gestures, gurgles, or uses a facial expression, what happens when these “conversations” don’t occur? At what cost are we chatting or texting on a cell phone?

My sense is that smartphones, especially when used in excess, may distract parents and erode infant and toddler language acquisition.

Parents, What Are Your Thoughts on This Subject?

Share your opinions in the comments below and with other parents at 7:30 pm on April 30 at the Brisbane Library. Join other parents for a workshop, "Media, Technology, and Early Childhood Development: What Parents Need to Know," led by Holly Pedersen, Ph.D. This event is just one of many events Brisbane Library has scheduled to celebrate Ditch Your Device Week (Monday 29 April to Sunday May 5), all designed to coax you to reduce your electronic device screen time.

Brisbane too far?

The Media and Technology parent workshop will also be held at Pacifica Sanchez Library on Monday, April 29, at 7 pm and at Atherton Library on Thursday, May 2, at 4:00 pm—and other branches will be holding additional exciting programs during Ditch Your Device Week to help (at least temporarily) break the screen habit.


Author Bio:

Paula Hess is a Brisbane Library Intern and a parent of two tweens who often watched Maisy and the Teletubbies while their mother did housework.

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