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Why Parents Should Put Down Their Smartphones

Put your phone down and play these games with your child instead.

Pediatricians at the American Academy of Pediatrics have some wise advice for parents of young children, especially parents who are concerned with their child's speech and language development.

In an excellent article for parents, "Parents of Young Children: Put Down Your Smartphones!" pediatricians urge parents to play face-to-face interactive games with their young child, even if that means spending less time at home on their smartphones and tablets.

While acknowledging that parents are more rushed than ever before and rely on their smartphones to stay connected, the article points out that 80 percent of a child's brain development occurs in the first three years of life.

 used with permission
Source: Shutterstock: used with permission

A child's brain development is fed through consistent verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children, so it is important to keep the focus on quality time and not on technology whenever possible. The article tells parents that checking your phone frequently "may hurt your young child's ability to learn."

So what's a parent to do to maximize their young child's ability to learn language and communication skills? Here are some suggestions:

1. Play games such as peekaboo, pat-a-cake, and "Itsy Bitsy Spider." These games serve an important purpose: they promote face-to-face interaction, teach turn-taking, and reinforce essential parts of bonding and conversation. Activities like blowing kisses, waving bye-bye, and clapping help a child build social interaction and conversation skills. These games all require free hands—for both children and parents!

2. Read a book together with your preschooler, play with blocks, look at the same dog in a park. "When two people focus on the same thing at the same time, they are engaging in what is called 'joint attention.' Joint attention is a vital part of communication and language development. It is also an important social skill, allowing a child to share an experience with another person and see someone else's point of view. Sharing focus lets a child know you are interested in what they say or do. When parents are on their cell phones, they are not fully focused on the same points of attention as their child and miss key opportunities to build this skill."

3. Play traditional interactive children's games like "Duck, duck goose," "Simon says," and "London bridge is falling down."

4. Enjoy nature walks or go camping with your child. Say things like: "Look at those big clouds," or "Touch this grass. It is still wet from yesterday's rain." Young children especially love exploring and are sure to have plenty of questions for parents along the way! Nature encourages children's innate curiosity,

5. Play tag and run around with your child.

Pediatricians stress the importance of play for a young child's brain development and ability to learn. These traditional childhood games reflect centuries of wisdom about child development.

Half a century ago, in 1977, naturalist Marie Winn warned about the effects of television on young children's brain development in her classic book The Plug-in Drug. Winn warns parents that children's early television experiences will serve "to dehumanize, to mechanize, to make less real the realities and relationships they encounter in life." The digital challenge for parents of young children today is not merely television, but a vast variety of electronic media.

By focusing attention on their child for the first three to four years, parents have a precious window of opportunity to influence their child's brain development and communication skills. Spending less time on smartphones and more time playing with their child early on reaps great rewards in the years ahead.

Copyright Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.


"Parents of Young Children: Put Down Your Smartphones!" American Academy of Pediatrics,…

"10 No-Cost, Screen-Free Activities to Play with Your Preschooler." Suanne Kowal-Connelly, MD,…

Winn, M. The Plug-in Drug. 1977. Penguin Group.

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