“Get OFF Your Freaking Phone” by Elizabeth Traub
Have you ever sat with a friend over coffee and felt your blood pressure rise just a tiny bit as your friend is checking their phone? Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who stops you mid-sentence, because they are looking at their phone “real quick”? Have you ever wondered why in the past 1o-15 years there is a HUGE rise in disorders tagged among our infants & children? Did we just wake up one day and all of a sudden young school age kids are facing new disorders? Oh dear sweet mama’s with babies if I could impart some wisdom that comes from both raising my own five kids over three decades of parenting and being very involved in the lives of many kids. Keep in mind that my oldest is a few months from 30 years old and my youngest is a few days from 11 years old. Pretty serious when I say three decades of being a mama.
As a young 21 one year old first time mama I had no idea what I was doing. I actually thought that either you had a bright child or you did not. Fate would determine the mental health of this little boy. There was no technology to hold in your hand to flip open an app to measure my child’s development. I only had a baby a baby rattle. Throw in a few books and I was well on my way. Only thing is reading was not going to trump looking at my baby’s beautiful face. This mama looked at her baby every waking hour possible. I talked non-stop to my baby, as if he were a little grown-up. I would hold him close, or have him in close proximity when doing basic mom stuff. I would look in this baby boys eyes with non-stop conversations. This mama hung on every single drool, gurgle, eye blink, and utterance of life as an infant. I would imitate and repeat back to him the very sounds he made and watch those little eyebrows raise, and a smile break out. This little boy had the face of this mama daily, hours within inches, of this sweet little face.
There is study after study that outlines the brain development of an infant and the interactions with a human face. There are study after studies about the need an infant has to interact with a human voice, and a human face. Just google, “Does eye contact help infants brain development?”. I particularity like this study as it’s so simple and matter of fact: California Childcare Health Program 1 Building Baby’s Intelligence: Why Infant Stimulation Is So Importantbyinten081803_adr.pdf
I started watching the cell phone era interrupt times with young mama’s. ( I reference mom’s as in my circle of friends, or even strangers at the park, I spent with moms. Dads this is all for you, too.) I grew irritated watching an infant left to their own while mama was scrolling and reading her phone. Park benches are still lined with strollers. But rather seeing a mother looking at her baby, or holding her baby, baby is left alone, awake, fussing, and the mama holding a bottle to the fussing baby, or stuffing some kind of treat into their mouth. I sat with one mama who was engaged on her phone. I asked her if I could hold her fussing baby. Her response, “No I try not to get him to use to being held.” Another mother was holding a bottle to her baby, while looking at her phone. Her baby, guessing about 5 months, was fussing and pushing the bottle out of her mouth. I asked the mama if I could feed her baby. This mama’s response was, “No, she fusses all the time. I just try to keep stuffing the bottle in her mouth until she is happy.” Oh Lord God have mercy on our babies. Mom is stuffing a bottle in her fussy baby’s mouth while she scrolls on her phone.
Can you imagine if you kept asking your friend to look at you, talk to you, and instead she just kept buying you a latte and telling you it will be okay as she scrolled down her phone. First off your belly could hardly handle one latte. Imagine being forced fed latte’s all day when you felt fussy and neglected. ( And now we have an epidemic of tummy issues with newborns, too. Let’s just say if you were stuff with milk every time you fussed, you would have stomach problems, too.) Okay so I just used the word neglected. Our children need us. Our babies need us. We went from a mother/fatherhood of holding our babies. Looking at our babies for hours to transporting them in a seat from the car to the house and cell phones that own our eyes and attention. And when we are with them, we are watching what the latest and greatest is on our phone. Dear parents, the latest and greatest might need a diaper change. The latest and greatest might be fussing because that innate need for you in their life is real. Their brains are begging for your face and your voice.
What owns your attention? Your phone. What is the first thing you look at each morning? Your phone? What are you doing while your nursing or feeding your baby? Your phone. If this is not you, then there is not need to get in a huff. If this is you, you might be feeling a little hot under the collar. And I am glad you are because really you should GET OFF YOUR FREAKING PHONE.
I challenge you to spend those waking hours with your infant without your phone. As in put the phone on the charger, in the laundry room, on your nightstand, leave it in your handbag, mute the sound and spend that time face to face with your baby. Put your baby on your bed, open a book and start reading to them in a way where they can see the illustrations and your face. Hearing the inflections in your voice. Dance with music that will move and groove you with your baby. Play with them. Pop psychology would like to direct you to all the learning toys that could fill a warehouse. Nothing is better than face to face playtime with your infant. Curling their little fingers around yours as you look into their eyes. Make a daily chart if you have to and make that time something you cherish with each of your children. My deaf son is my 3rd child. The habit of play, and baby signing, and face to face interactions stimulated his healthy brain. He was deaf, not dumb. Today his doctors are fascinated by his accomplishments. I can say with confidence that those hours on the floor playing with him as an infant, habits formed through my first two children, long before cell-phones, have contributed to his healthy brain today.
This is a non-bragging moment. ( maybe a little) I have five kids. Four boys and one girl to be exact. One special needs child who is basically deaf. Well not basically deaf, he is as deaf as they come. He wears Cochlear Implants. Not one of my kids has had to be on an IEP or 504. Not even the deaf one. I read once as a new mama, in a book I could not remember, that our infants need face to face interactions to birth their intelligence and that window of brain development starts the day you are holding your newborn. I made it a point to spend the time I could, as a stay home mom, doing just that. And I can say that I had the blessing of when I did work, being able to bring my infants to work with me. It took time. It took me away from other things I might like to have been doing. And five kids later and the youngest in 4th grade I still have parents asking me what is it I did to raise such smart kids. Did I read to them? Sing to them? Dance with them? Play with them? Yes I did and I am still doing that today. Building the foundation of parenting starts with intentionally interacting with our children.
It is not easy. I love the tech savvy fun of my android. I love scrolling through my social media, and apps and etsy and all the things we have as our new normal. Yet, as my time was soon sucked away, it was my kids who were letting me know. I can hear my daughter, “mama get off your phone.” And today that phone stays put away. I miss text messages. I miss comments on my social media, and I am not always in real time when I post updates. I want to look back on parenting and know that my kids did not and will not grow up competing with a little device that had nothing to do with them. So dear sweet parents might I submit that you spend four times as much time with your babies than that of your cellphones, tablets, electronics. Now, as I wait to go and pick up one son from baseball you can bet while I am waiting in the car I am updating or checking Facebook. But the minute I see the whites of his eyes, that phone is put in my purse and in the back seats.