For her new book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Catherine Steiner-Adair EdD — a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard, a school consultant, and a therapist in private practice — interviewed more than one thousand children between the ages of 4 and 18 to find out how technology was impacting their relationships and their social and emotional lives. What Steiner-Adair discovered was neither surprising, nor comforting: Technology is becoming a kind of “co-parent;” too much screen time is impeding childhood development; and parents’ obsession with their devices is harming communication with their children and even fracturing families.
Just in time for back to school, The Huffington Post asked Steiner-Adair to tell us the eight essential things parents with children of all ages need to know about screens.
1. Don’t put your baby in front of a screen. Ever.
If you’re not convinced by the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, then consider this: “We don’t know yet the chemical interaction between a smartphone and a baby’s brain,” says Steiner-Adair. One 2010 Danish study of 28,000 children found that exposure to cell phones before and after birth seemed to lead to an increased risk for behavioral problems. Beyond that, one of the most important skills a baby needs to learn, Steiner-Adair says, is how to calm herself down. “If you hand [a young child] a screen of any kind when they’re frustrated, you’re teaching them how not to self-soothe,” she says. “You’re handing them a stimulant. Your baby’s brain is brilliant and what it needs is good stimulation and soothing from you. You are the best app for your child.”
2. And think hard about putting your toddler in front of one, too.
“A child only has from 0-5 to develop neurologically what we call the sensorium — that’s the part of the brain where pre-literacy, kinesthetic movement, and language development happens,” says Steiner-Adair. This kind of brain development takes place through outdoor play, building, dancing, skipping, coloring — all activities involving multi-sensory engagement. This kind of healthy engagement is basically the opposite of Continue Reading…