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Monday, April 7, 2014

"Momma, Whole Face Listen!" - a post by Jody Rutherford, our Director of Education & Programming

Several years ago, a cartoon was circulating about a little girl who had grabbed her mother's chin and demanded "Momma, whole face listen!" in order to get her mother to stop what she was doing, look at her, and really listen. Unfortunately, this tendency towards multi-tasking, and not really listening to young children, and even adults, is becoming far too common, and is increasing as a result of the prevalence of technology, via hand held devices.

Recently, while out for dinner one evening, I had the 'opportunity' to observe a young Dad out for dinner with his daughter, who was probably five or six years old. When they were seated a few tables away, Dad was facing my table, and immediately began checking messages, answering texts or emails, and answered several phone calls, all while the waitress took their order (which he did by pointing to items on the menu), and their dinner was served, and eaten.  Meanwhile, the little girl colored her coloring sheet, ate her dinner, while attempting several times to have a conversation with her father, who held his hand up to silence her, and motioned her to eat or color.  Left to her own devices, the little girl began to rip open sugar packets and spread them around, climb off and on her chair, leave the table to go to the washroom, and finally knocked her drink over and broke the glass. At that point, Dad, motioned for the check and they left the restaurant.  As they passed our table, Dad was heard to say, 'Well,  I'm never taking you out for dinner again, if that's the way you are going to behave!'   I wanted to follow them out to the parking lot and tell Dad that perhaps he was the one who shouldn't get to go out to dinner again, if that's the way he behaves.

Recently, Global News, shared a story "Are Smart-phones to blame for distracted Parenting?" describing a study conducted by Boston Medical Centre researchers, in 15 Boston restaurants, studying the interaction between 55 families during their meals. Of these families, 40 of them had mobile devices on the table, and 16 of the parents used their phones the entire meal, with children from infants to age ten.  During the video, several parents were seen to motion their child away, and one parent even kicked her child under the table, while engaged with a hand held device   Dr. Radesky says she isn't telling parents to stop using their phones by any means, but emphasizes we need to create boundaries for the devices when we are with children. The study authors stress that face-to-face interaction is how bonds are formed between children and their parents,  through speaking, touching and interacting.

Research on the effects of technology, or the newly coined phrase 'absent presence'  and the development of young children is scarce, as it is a  relatively new phenomena.  However, Dr. Deborah Fallows, and others, have asked the question-' Does the time adults spend with their mobile devices affect the way young children learn language?' She states, a 2009 pediatrics publication showed, ' children's language abilities and eventual academic success are linked to the sheer volume of words they are exposed to early on...the quality of the linguistic exposure, not just it's quantity, matters.'  Further she adds, ' parents talking to their babies, playing with trucks and dolls, and making toy sounds is the critical ingredient for their child's language learning. There is no replacement for social-interaction.'  Dr. Fallows quotes Dimitri Christakis, 'You can only do one thing at a time:talk to the baby or talk on the phone.'

Deborah Joyce, Executive Director of the Family Resource Association,  Kristin Zolten, and Nicholas Long from the Center for Effective Parenting, share a similar message regarding how essential: making eye contact; stopping what you are doing; actively listening; and acknowledging that you have heard; are, to giving young children (and adults) the message that you are there for them, are interested in what they have to say, and you value them as a person. This interaction increases not only communication skills, but develops self confidence in our children  In essence, when we 'whole face talk', we are telling our children we love them and care about them!

Papa, Don't Text: the Perils of Distracted Parenting, June 19, 2013, D. Fallows

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