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It’s true that there have always been countless distractions around us, but smart phones have taken that to a new level. With notifications dinging regularly, we’ve gotten used to taking a minute to respond to a message no matter what we’re in the middle of.
A 2016 study shows allowing that habit of continuous interruption is probably harmful when we’re taking care of infants.
Scientists from University of California, Irvine, studied rats raised in both chaotic and calm environments. All the rats received the same quantity and quality of care from their mothers, but in the chaotic environments, the care was frequently disrupted. The rats in the chaotic environments were more likely to grow up to show signs of a diminished ability to feel pleasure–a precursor to depression.
The lead researcher had this to say:
“Our work builds on many studies showing that maternal care is important for future emotional health. Importantly, it shows that it is not how much maternal care that influences adolescent behavior but the avoidance of fragmented and unpredictable care that is crucial. We might wish to turn off the mobile phone when caring for baby and be predictable and consistent.”
She explained that the brain’s pleasure system circuits are still developing in infants, and the circuits are stimulated by “predictable sequences of events.” If a baby’s care is not rhythmical enough, their pleasure systems won’t mature properly. With a diminished ability to feel pleasure, people tend to seek more extreme sources of stimulation, like drugs or other risky behavior.
I’m a firm believer in the importance of giving your undivided attention to your infant whenever possible. It will help him or her feel secure and loved. I raised five children, and it was always apparent that both babies and children are sensitive to their environment. They pick up and internalize the tension and stress their parents feel, so it makes sense they’d be affected by parental distraction, too.
The researchers have turned their attention to humans, now, so we’ll stay tuned to see what more we can learn about the effect of digital distraction on babies. But whatever their findings and whether or not we’re raising young children, taking breaks from screen time is always a good thing.