Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Great Leveler

Oh, Columbia Patch. I know I should  not expect much from you but I can’t let this one go by.

Here we see a link to a piece about Howard County’s new Online Services Catalogue. And here is a stock photo someone thought would be appropriate.

No, no, no.

Affluent white dad pays attention to laptop while half-heartedly holding a spoon to feed a baby.

No, no, no.

There’s so much wrong in this photo. Centering affluent whiteness. Treating a baby like an afterthought. Reinforcing the stereotypes that men don’t know how to be nurturing caregivers. The only thing that’s right about this photo is also wrong. The baby renders the realism of the scene false by making eye contact with the photographer or someone, perhaps a parent, out of the picture.

Eye contact is the only thing remotely right about this scene.

When I had coffee this Fall with Bonnie Bricker to learn more about Talk With Me, she explained why the initiative is targeted towards all families, and not just a less-affluent, more likely to be at-risk subset. She held up her phone and said,

“This is the great leveler.”

The advent of the smart phone has decimated parent-infant interactions. What were once normal occasions for eye contact and interactive engagement now look more like the photo above. Look! There’s an entire category of stock photos depicting this behavior.

From the Talk With Me website:

Your baby’s brain grows with every interaction you have together.

I’m going to rephrase that in a way that highlights the crisis in child development that smart phones and other electronics are bringing about.

Every time you miss an opportunity to interact with your baby, their brain doesn’t grow.

Why is that important?

What is the most important time in brain development?

The brain remains ‘plastic’ throughout life, but trajectories are set during the prenatal period and early childhood. Brain development is very rapid in the womb and continues at an accelerated rate in the first two to three years in particular. (Brain and behavioural plasticity in the developing brain: Neuroscience and public policy, Dr. Bryan Kolb)
This is huge. We have the power to impact brain development in countless simple ways but there is a cost. The cost is putting our phones down. The cost is paying attention. Infant care is exhausting and mind numbingly endless. The desire to take a break by withdrawing to that readily available electronic space is understandable. But we all too quickly become acclimated to it.
And our babies suffer. And their brains are diminished. And their futures are changed. 
It’s that simple.

The fix is simple, too. Read to the bottom of the Talk With Me page. There’s an easy-to-implement plan that anyone can master. Just as we require people to wash their hands before holding our babies, and that they be vaccinated in order to protect baby’s fragile immune systems, we can insist that people put aside electronics for meaningful human interaction. We should make it just as much a priority.
CAUTION: Improper use can limit and/or diminish the brain development of infants and young children.
If you are giving electronic devices during this holiday season, maybe you can include the information from Talk With Me along with your gift. Understanding suggested operation conditions should be a part of every new toy.


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