Parental attention deprivation disorder: is texting harmful to child development?
by California's Children 6/7/2012 12:00:00 AM
that childhood disability rates are not only unexplainably increasing, but also that the way disabilities manifest is significantly changing. Where the poster child of disability in the 1960s was on crutches, the new face is a child with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other problems that affect the developing brain...
"...the ordinary magic of daily experience" -- is what, according to Ann Masten, the president of the Society for Research in Child Development, provides the scaffolding that protects a child from contemporary developmental risks: toxic chemicals and toxic stress.
The reference can be found in an essay, "Could texting while parenting harm baby's development?" in last Sunday's New Jersey Star-Ledger, written by Neal Halfon, M.D., M.P.H., at left, who is the director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. He is also a professor at the UCLA Departments of Pediatrics, Health Services and Public Policy.
Halfon's column is based on the release of a new study in "The Future of Children," a periodical produced by Princeton-Brookings. The study, says Dr. Halfon, [emphasis ours] "... adds to the growing [documentation]... that childhood disability rates are not only unexplainably increasing, but also that the way disabilities manifest is significantly changing. Where the poster child of disability in the 1960s was on crutches, the new face is a child with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other problems that affect the developing brain...
Reversing Masten's "ordinary magic," Halfon writes, "Similarly, ordinary inattention and common adversities, often repeated and then compounded, can send a child on a downward developmental path. While the causes of increasing rates of developmental disabilities may be due to a bad molecule or some yet-to-be-discovered risks, they also may be hiding in plain sight. He then relates two ordinary scenes, one with an infant and mother, another with a father and a toddler. In both cases, positive engagement between parent and child was interrupted by the parent's attention to cell phone calls, e-mails, and texting.
... Mom began texting. What I witnessed next was what I observe in young babies with mothers who are drug addicts, depressed or disengaged for other reasons.The baby found Mom was no longer responsive, smiling or interacting. Baby cooed and tried to get Mom’s attention, but there was little response. To the infant, her mother now resembled someone who was severely depressed. The baby gradually became agitated, fussy and unresponsive to a few gentle pats from mom in place of real attention. I imagined the baby’s right frontal cortex, associated with positive emotions, powering down as the left frontal cortex, which responds to adversity, powered up....[The vignette with the father, in a pizza parlor, degenerated from parental engagement to what Halfon calls "parental benign neglect" -- and the consequential flying slices of leftover pizza.]
...In both instances, what could have been many minutes of engaged social interaction was transformed into distress, in the case of the baby in the airport, and into distraction for the [toddler].
Was the infant’s experience of her mother’s Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation an anomaly or a regular part of life? Were these the origins of an anxiety disorder for the [infant] and ADHD for the [toddler]?....Are these children suffering from parental attention deprivation disorder, an unintentional form of benign neglect? Should we pass laws like those that ban cell phones while driving? Should we put up signs that say, “No texting while parenting”? Is the quality of parenting any different [because] Dad has a phone [rather than] any of the hundreds of other tools parents used in the past?
The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public
and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.