Posted in: Infants & Toddlers
Topics: Culture + Society
With 92% of American children under the age of 2 appearing in online pictures, the United States leads the way in new parents’ use of social networking. But sites such as Facebook are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the technologies new parents have embraced.
Imagine Katie, a composite sketch of a new mother of a 6-month-old infant who brings together observations of several of our patients and friends. Katie strolls through the neighborhood chatting on her cell phone with a friend, and texts her husband to remind him to pick up fish and an eggplant for dinner. Later, while nursing on the park bench, she checks a nursing app to log the time of day and length of this breast-feeding. She also gets a question answered about storing her milk when she returns to work. (If she were pumping at work, she could use this app to see pictures and sounds of nursing babies to help stimulate her let-down.) Once home, she checks in with an online community of moms, and uploads photos to Facebook from her walk so that all the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends can stay updated. She looks at Coolmompicks to see what the hip new trends, products and fashions are for new mothers.
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Soon, it’s time for Baby to take a nap. Katie remembers to record the time of Baby’s nap on Power Nap so that she can track his napping patterns and get tips on his sleep. Exhausted, she also lies down to take a nap, and sets a sleep app to wake her up at a time during her sleep cycle that will maximize her alertness.
When she wakes up, she texts her husband to find out when he’ll be home for dinner. In the evening, she and her husband Skype with his family on the West Coast. He checks some daddy blogs, like Geekdads, Metradad, and Daddytypes. Then, he searches Kidsmusicthatrocks and uses Pandora to discover new songs with a similar flavor and vibe. When it’s time to read a story to Baby, he pulls out his iPad and reads Good Night Moon. When b\Baby touches the screen, objects talk back to him. Later, the father notices that they are almost out of toilet paper, so he orders a case on Amazon that will be delivered in two days.
Katie’s story highlights many of the reasons why new parents use technology. Parents use technology to fight the isolation associated with being the parent left at home during the day, to get parenting information they might have sought in an earlier time from relatives, to document their babies’ development with online albums, nursing and napping logs, and to find websites for music, books, and YouTube videos to entertain Baby.
But, what does this have to do with the central role of a new parent? That is, does it create a secure and stable attachment with a baby? To the extent that technology may stave off the isolation and blues that can come from many hours cut off from adult companionship, technology is a real help. We know that happy parents make the best parents. And, technology can also help new parents with self-care, offering advice and tips about sleeping and eating.
What makes us concerned, though, is when the digital devices are so compelling and intriguing that they pull parents’ focus and attention away from their babies. Good parents are those who tune in to their babies’ needs for play, sleep and feeding, and take their cues from babies about when to look away. When the process goes in the reverse direction and babies have to work or fuss to re-engage a parent who has looked away to text or post on Facebook, the connection may go awry.
And, as useful as technology is to modern parents, there are still a number of challenges that new parents face that technology doesn’t seem to help with. The most common problem that new parents report is an increase in their fighting with one another—a by-product of chronic fatigue, and having to negotiate so many decisions on the spot—like who will change this 3am diaper, and whose turn it is to take a shower. In our experience, the remedies to marital spats still happen offline. Humor, apologies, efforts to listen to one’s partner, and offers to trade off with night duties are still the best strategies. There just isn’t a digital substitute for looking right at your baby, and right at your partner, and speaking lovingly with a steady gaze.
A version of this post originally appeared and was written by the authors (Gorrindo and Fishel) in Psychology Today’s The Digital Family blog.