Put down the phone, please, say children, experts

Infant Mental Health team launch awareness campaign aimed at parents’ phone addiction

It was just over a decade ago that smartphones were introduced to the marketplace, but for many people today, the device has become their single-most important possession.

But addiction to cellphones, the instant gratification of likes and shares, and access to real-time information, has had a trickle-down effect on children, hindering their development, according to the Langley Infant Mental Health team.

That’s why the team has begun a public awareness campaign — Talk to Me, Play With Me, Carry Me – #mywellbeingstartswithyou — designed to stress the importance of simple interactions and the positive impact it has on the well being of their baby.

“Technology came on so quickly and has become such a part of our lives that I don’t think we could prepare for the impact it would have on the wellbeing of infants and children,” said Cora Boecker, infant development programmer with Langley Child Development Centre.

“There isn’t any ill intent on any parent’s part. There is no blame or shame here, but we need to address it because we are seeing way more referrals to our centre for behavioural issues, anxiety and development delays as well as speech delay, and we think there is a correlation,” said Boecker.

When we choose our phone over our child, it is sending the message that the phone is more important than the child. It’s subtle but it impacts their rapidly developing mental health, she said.

Boecker sees it all the time at coffee shops and restaurants; mom will be enjoying a coffee and a visit while baby sits content in the car seat at her feet. Or parents take their children to the playground but sit with their heads down, staring at their phone.

This lack of interaction is hurting children’s mental health, she said.

More Anxiety, Behavioural Issues

While parents are starting to understand the impact too much screen time has on toddlers and children, they don’t recognize that a parents’ screen time affects an infant’s development and their connection.

“While a mom is breastfeeding, she may think it is a good time to catch up on a couple of texts but gazing at each other during feeding is crucial to a baby’s development.”

In fact, newborns can see up to a distance of about eight inches, which is the exact length between a woman’s breasts and her eyes.

Choosing to put your baby on your lap or in your arms while you visit with someone or carry them in a snuggly also aids in development.

They feel the vibration of your voice, they hear your voice and are engaged. Carrying a baby has shown to have huge benefits in digestion and gross motor skills because they have to use their own muscles as they shift around and have to hold themselves up a bit.

“We get it, parenting is hard — now more than ever. But what we are saying is, keep it simple.”

Mom Kimberley Chalmers said she decided to ‘re-program’ her attachment to her phone some time ago.

“We hear that bing of the phone and we just have this reflex to answer it right away. Some time ago I decided that bing can wait and I found out it really can. It’s so good to just be present with your baby, ” said Chalmers while snuggling her four-week-old daughter Kamaria.

“The infant stage is hard but it (passes) so quickly,” Chalmers said.

The Langley mom is also a partner in Holistic Life & Biz, healthy life training.

Technology Rewires the Brain

Screen-related technology has been found to “rewire” the human brain. A study out of UBC that surveyed 242 parents who had children under the age of two found that 58 per cent of the children were given screen time each day.

The Canadian Pediatrics Society strongly recommends that no child under two years old should have any screen time. By two, many toddlers are given a phone to look at as a reward, to be quieted or as a distraction. Screen time also gives a parent time to clean or get dinner ready, said Boecker.

But the impact of that screen time is being felt in all aspects of the child’s development, including the inability to self regulate and focus by the time they get to Kindergarten, she said. It interrupts sleep patterns and can delay speech.

To put the campaign together, the team got feedback from families and incorporated it into the design of the campaign, she said.

Special attention was paid to keeping the messaging positive so that families do not feel any shame.

Langley Baby Day

The Talk to Me, Play With Me, Carry Me campaign will be the focus of the first annual Langley Baby Day, happening on Monday, May 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Church in The Valley.

This event is a joint initiative, funded by Langley School District and co-ordinated through the Langley Children’s Committee and Langley Early Years Centre.

This free baby day is designed to reach families with babies born in 2017 and 2018, as well as moms-to-be to provide them with information and resources related to “Talk to me, Play with me, Carry me – #mywellbeingstartswithyou.”

The event will include community booths, a marketplace and short presentations and Music by Marney will perform. Langley Baby Day falls on national Child and Youth Mental Health Day. Already 200 parents have registered. Registration is through Eventbrite.

The awareness campaign was launched a week ago with a 90-second video, that can be found on YouTube. The video shows three families interacting with their infants. This video, narrated in a child’s voice and showing a child’s perspective during the “non-preferred” interaction, is contrasted with the child’s perspective during the preferred behaviour.

As part of the campaign, they have made 2,500 baby bandanas bearing the message.

A free baby bandana will be provided to local families who have babies 12 months and under. The bandanas will also be distributed through the Langley Memorial Hospital maternity clinic before families are discharged with their new baby.

The Talk to Me, Play With Me, Carry Me campaign was funded by the Ministry for Children and Family Development.

Read more online at www.langleytimes.com

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