Parents: Interact with your kids!

After years and years of practicing emergency medicine, I’ve seen and treated thousands of children for everything from beads in the nose to leukemia, ruptured spleens to sprained ankles.

A father of four myself, I take great delight in interacting with the kids that come through my workplace. I consider it a personal challenge to make them smile whenever possible and to put them at ease.

I’ve learned a few things over the years. For instance, when examining sick infants, it’s best to let mom or dad hold them as long as possible. Stethoscopes work just fine when mom is standing and rocking the baby back and forth. Likewise, when moving towards sick children, it is wise to move like an old, arthritic hound. Children are easily startled by the sudden movements of adults. Especially those carrying tongue depressors. It’s also helpful to speak softly, even in stressful situations.

I do my best to smile, a lot, at infants. I compliment, or find some commonality, with verbal kids. We talk about their cat, their toy, their favorite super-hero. Older children like my Captain America watch. For the most part, I’m successful. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time connecting with my own family.

However, much of the ease of my work depends on parents. Parents who are confident in their role, who have good relationships with their children, make my job much easier. Some parents are great at this! They understand the wonder and mystery of childhood, and it’s obvious they have a deep, purposeful connection to their little ones.

But as I’ve watched parents and children over the last few years, I’ve seen a very concerning trend. And it’s the tendency exhibited by far too many parents to allow electronic devices to do all the comforting, all the distracting, all the conversation and casual education that in days past would have been their responsibility. And indeed, would have been their joy.

I’d say that the majority of small children I see at work are playing with a cell phone, tablet or computer. Either their parents’ or increasingly, their own. While mom and dad are busily texting or playing games on their devices (everything and everyone else being obviously so much more interesting), the little ones are watching a cartoon or playing a game.

What isn’t happening? Conversation. Simple games like “I spy.” Reading books or magazines, talking about colors, singing songs. Anything where the parent looks into the face of the small child and imparts either love or information. The device and the Internet have supplanted those apparently mundane jobs.

Now, I know that ERs are often places of interminable waiting. And I’m certainly not opposed to folks using those phones or other devices to pass the time. But what I’m thinking is this: People, interact with your kids!

Children need to have lots of words spoken by parents into their dirty little wax-filled ears, and from there into their growing, learning brains. They need to see comforting facial expressions, and learn the pronunciation of new words, read or spoken to them by their parents.

When they are endlessly bombarded by the voices of strangers on devices, when they are deprived of their parents’ voices, they are robbed. And when poems, songs, prayers, scriptures, fairy tales and nursery rhymes are displaced by computer programs, they are technologically impoverished and neglected.

This seems to occur most often because their parents are also chained to the devices (and a child playing with electronics leaves time for parents to do the same), and because it’s easier to say “play with this,” than to interact with the little humans they brought into the world.

I’m often ignored when I walk into the exam room, as the patient with abdominal pain has to finish a text or call. I get it. I made them wait, and they’re trying to finish what they were doing.

But people, please give the kids more than electronics! Parent and child alike will benefit from putting down the device.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.  This article originally appeared in Greenville Online.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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