In a recent article by The Atlantic, Erika Christakis asserts that there is a growing epidemic of parents distracted by smartphones, unable to attend to the needs of their children.
This issue has grown more and more over the years, given the prevalence of smartphones and their presence in our daily lives. Not only is precious time being robbed from children, empathy and cognitive growth is as well.
The Atlantic quotes Temple University professor, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, saying, “Language is the single best predictor of school achievement… and the key to strong language skills are those back-and-forth fluent conversations between young children and adults.”
Hirsh-Pasek also states, “Toddlers cannot learn when we break the flow of conversations by picking up our cellphones or looking at the text that whizzes by our screens.”
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Distracted Parents Can Miss Children Crying for Attention
Speaking to the balance between adult needs and desires and children’s, Christakis writes that there has always been a time, throughout the generations, where adults have had to tend to the needs of the house and children were left to play or occupy themselves. This is reasonable, Christakis assures, however, the distraction that comes from being absorbed in smartphones, even addicted, is detrimental to children.
Christakis writes, “Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them. A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention.”
“Short, deliberate separations can of course be harmless, even healthy, for parent and child alike (especially as children get older and require more independence). But that sort of separation is different from the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through his or her nonengagement that the child is less valuable than an email.”
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The Risk of Children’s Screen Time
In addition to the issue of parental distraction, smartphones and technology have also become an issue for children. More frequently, children are exposed to screens in school, daycare settings, and at home. The Atlantic reports that children are exposed to more screen time than previous generations, with preschoolers averaging more than 4 hours per day and screen time beginning earlier, at only 4 months old.
Rather than playing outside or at home, children occupy themselves by watching television or videos online and playing games. The Atlantic reports, “To argue that parents’ use of screens is an underappreciated problem isn’t to discount the direct risks screens pose to children: Substantial evidence suggests that many types of screen time (especially those involving fast-paced or violent imagery) are damaging to young brains,” however, they say that “Some of the newer interactive games kids play on phones or tablets may be more benign than watching TV (or YouTube), in that they better mimic children’s natural play behaviors.”
Christakis concludes, “Still, no one really disputes the tremendous opportunity costs to young children who are plugged in to a screen: Time spent on devices is time not spent actively exploring the world and relating to other human beings.”
It seems that for children to develop better cognitively and grow in social learning, a significant amount of time away from the screen is necessary.
France Banning Smartphones from Schools
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has addressed the issue on a nation-wide scale. Macron has banned smartphones and tablets from all schools. “The phone ban will apply to all pupils in France up to the age of 15, as of the start of the new term in September,” Daily Mail writes.
Recognizing an ongoing issue with children and teenagers and screen time, the French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer told The Telegraph in December, “These days the children don’t play at break time anymore, they are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view that’s a problem.”
He continued, “This is about ensuring the rules and the law are respected. The use of telephones is banned in class. With headmasters, teachers and parents, we must come up with a way of protecting pupils from loss of concentration via screens and phones.”
French Schools Can Decide How to Implement Law
This newer law passed in French Parliament on Monday. According to the Daily Mail, Blanquer “said the earlier law did not apply across the board and lacked teeth, while the new law moves France ‘into the 21st century’.”
The new smartphone ban means that children and teens will have to leave smartphones and tablets at home or turned off during the day, although, the Education Minister realizes that these devices may be needed in case of emergency or for teaching.
At this point, each high school is reportedly allowed to make decisions for itself on whether to follow through with the ban in its entirety or to enact a partial ban. Furthermore, “Schools may make exceptions for ‘pedagogical use’, extra-curricular activities, or for disabled pupils,” according to Daily Mail; they continue, quoting Blanquer, “’It sends a message to French society’ as well as countries around the world.”