Several years ago, my husband Tyrone and I were in New York City when I saw something that made me cringe internally. We were in a hotel lobby in Manhattan when I spotted a double stroller. In the stroller were two adorable children who looked to be about 2 and 4 years old. Built into each section of the double stroller was a DVD player.
Due to advances in technology, simulated images are coming into the brains of all of us faster than ever before, and it is shortening all of our attention spans. How many of you get impatient when your phone takes too long to load an app? How many of you are scanning this article on the go, hoping it gets to the point as fast as a tweet? 😉
The bottom line is something we all intuitively understand, but maybe we need a reminder from time to time: Technology should never replace the time that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children. Years ago, that conversation often happened around a dinner table. No matter where it is, it is essential for both brain development and emotional health that parents spend time speaking with their children.
It’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that young children under the age of 2 not look at a television at all and that viewing time be limited for older and pre-school children. Viewing television does not properly stimulate the visual system of the brain since there is no dilation of the pupils, the eyes do not move from one point to the next like what happens when one reads, the images change too fast to be processed by the higher-thinking area of the brain, and the child’s brain is not allowed to create internal images. The act of watching television is passive and does not allow children to talk back. It is that talking back, or two-way conversation, that is crucial to making connections in the brain.
Make It Happen
- There is evidence that a fetus’s hearing is so acute that as early as the sixth or seventh month in the womb, a child is able to tell the difference between a positive or soothing voice and a negative or disturbing voice. Start talking to your child before he or she is born.
- Have conversations with your children face to face. Parents need to have loving, attentive, meaningful conversations with their kids long before the age of 3 since children can’t learn to talk unless they are spoken to. Smile! Speak in complete sentences. It’s amazing how much vocabulary a child can absorb from you.
- Make a trip to the grocery an education experience. Point out and name the groceries around you. The names of fruit, vegetables, etc. Count how many of an item are on the shelf. It’s an opportunity to engage with your child and help him or hear learn and grow.
- When traveling in a car, resist the temptation to turn on the radio or put on a DVD. If your children are older, have them take out their earbuds. Use the time to have a conversation and be present for them.
- If you have more than one child, try to make time to have conversations with all your children individually. Set aside a time once a week where you can check in with each other and have more meaningful conversation. Make your children aware that if they have a problem, they can come and talk about it with you. Regular meaningful communication will give them the confidence to do so.
For more tips and ideas on how to talk to and with your children, consult my bestselling book, Preparing Children for Success in School and Life: 20 Ways to Increase Your Child’s Brain Power.