Is too much texting while parenting neglect? Meredith Baxter on domestic violence; Philadelphia getting handle on domestic violence

This headline jumped out at me this morning — “Could texting while parenting harm baby’s development?  Oh give me a break….more blame-the-digital-media-for-all-of-our-social-ills junk, I thought. By the end, I was sold. Dr. Neal Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, told two stories that made his case. The first began in an airport, where he watched a young middle-class mom interact with a nine-month-old baby on her lap.

The adoring mother engaged the infant in beautifully playful, expressive dance. They modeled textbook interactions so crucial for healthy attachment and emotional development.

The mother smiled in response to the baby’s smile. As the mother spoke, baby cooed in response. I could almost see the invisible rays of emotional energy transmitted from mom to baby.

Then 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.

After a few more minutes, the distressed and agitated infant stuck her hand in her mouth, organized herself around the sucking that was now substituting for real-time interaction and gazed listlessly at the lights overhead, emotionally exhausted and distraught. Ten minutes later, Mom finished texting, rebundled her disengaged child and boarded the plane.

Yikes. In this example, he asks if this parental benign neglect is the beginning of an anxiety disorder in the little girl. In Halfon’s second example, he asks if it’s the beginning of ADHD in a little boy. It’s definitely worth checking out his post.

And it definitely reinforces the idea that all new parents need some basic guidance. Even if they come from families where they were the fortunate recipients of good parenting, it’s useful to reinforce the basics, if nothing else so that they can pass on good information. There may be different styles of parenting, but all need to incorporate the ordinary day-to-day interactions that lead to the healthy attachment and emotional development Halfon mentions. That means not so much texting that the child is negatively affected.

For what kids think about this, check out this post and video from CBS on Huffington Post from a couple of years ago. The comments are fascinating.

CELEBRITIES MIGHT BE KNOWN FOR their tell-all stories, but with some, it’s just a surprise to learn that their lives might be wall-to-wall abuse. That’s the case with Meredith Baxter, who played the mom in the long-running TV show “Family Ties”. Baxter seemed to have a “perfect” marriage to David Birney. When she divorced him after 15 years, she revealed the extreme verbal abuse that she and their children endured for too long. She talked about her experiences at a fundraiser for the Domestic Crisis Violence Center in Darien, CT, according to this post on DarienTimes.com. Baxter came from a family “devoid of love and nurturing support”, according to the post, and the pattern continued when she was an adult, and with her marriage:

“It was the constant stream of insults and name-calling and vilification that left the deepest scars,” she told the audience. “The effect of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse must not be minimized. I remember reading that even women of strong fiber and with a great sense of self-worth can be ground to dust by the corrosive effect of constant vitriolic, demeaning, belittling attacks. For me, the words cut far deeper than the slaps.”

AN ALL-WOMAN COALITION IN PHILADELPHIA is getting a handle on domestic violence to reduce the 150,000 calls it receives each year, according to this well-done story by Karen Heller on Philly.com. The coalition is led by Deputy Police Commissioner Patricia Giorgio-Fox, and includes Jeannine Lisitski at Women Against Abuse, the Women’s Law Project, the domestic-violence unit of the District Attorney’s Office, and Susan Sorenson of University of Pennsylvania’s Ortner Center on Family Violence. 

At each domestic violence call, police fill out a 25-question form. From this, the police identify four indicators of the likelihood of continuing violence: guns, stalking, violation of protection orders and attempted strangulations, which are being regarded as significant as an assault with a gun. (btw, this process is not any different than a process  instituted in the 1970s to prevent deaths and injuries from traffic crashes. For decades, police investigating traffic injuries and fatalities have filled out a form provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From this, experts are able to identify causes of crashes, and have improved cars, roads and laws on driver behavior, such as wearing seat belts and prohibiting drunk driving, that have prevented tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries.)

The forms are sent to advocacy groups, which contact the victims to initiate assistance before violence escalates.

In three years, deaths have dropped from 37 to 24. The story did not mention if the number of calls to police or injuries had dropped.

The next step, say advocates, is to make domestic violence an issue of public health.

Lisitski and other experts are pushing for city officials to recognize the problem, the cumulative effect on the health and welfare of the community. Children who live in a domestic war zone grow up to have huge problems that become “a costly problem for our society,” Lisitski says. “We see it in so many developmental ways and how it spreads out to other systems – child welfare, juvenile delinquency, prisons, drug and alcohol abuse.”

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