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The digital disconnection

Baby playing with an ipad
Baby playing with an ipad
Psychology Today

What’s the youngest age of a child being allowed to use a touch-screen device? According to findings in a new study published in Psychology Today, the average age of a child starting to use a touch-screen device is about 11 months.

Ruth Milanaik, chief investigator of the study, said, “It was striking to see that parents were substituting books and general baby toys for smart phones. Many parents did not seem to bring any other distraction for their children except the touch screen devices."

Vroom, a pilot program, encourages short “lessons” where parents are trained to chat with babies, although they can’t yet respond, and play games to stimulate early brain activity and harness everyday activities like breakfast time to stimulate face to face interaction. Vroom stressed that young babies and children build stronger neurological connections and comprehend the world around them through “conversations” with parents, before they can speak.

Children weren’t the only ones being studied on the disconnect digital devices have on families and relationships.
Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair wrote a book about parenting, called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. Steiner-Adair stated that when parents focus on their digital world first — ahead of their children — there can be deep emotional consequences for the child. Steiner-Adair also said, "We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them."

In a study on parent use of mobile devices, Catherine Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18, asking them about their parents' use of mobile devices. In the study, one 4-year-old called his dad's smartphone a "stupid phone." Another girl said, "I feel like I'm just boring. I'm boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, anytime — even on the ski lift!"

Steiner-Adair said it was uncertain knowing exactly how much parents and children loose time connecting with each other and how it affected the child in the long term. Based on the stories she hears, she suggests that parents think twice before picking up a mobile device when they're with their kids.