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There’s another reason for parental angst

To become a parent is to commit yourself to a lifetime of [at best] gnawing guilt about the ways in which you have failed your child[ren] – well, if you’re approaching the role with even a modicum of conscientiousness, that is.

As well as ye olde traditional parental guilt trip traps – are you failing to properly provide all the material things required for your offspring’s upbringing, versus are you failing to spend enough time with them because of all the hours you work in order to successfully provide those material things, for example – it seems as though there’s always a new study out about optimal approaches to parenting for you to fret over.

And then, of course, there’s that inescapable idea that regardless of what you do, you’re ultimately going to end up being a conduit of inter-generational trauma to your kid.

As the English poet Philip Larkin wrote in ‘This be the Verse’:

They f*** you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

[To digress, Larkin ends his poem by suggesting that the perpetuation of misery is a feature, not a bug, of being human and advising the reader “don’t have any kids yourself”, so you can probably count on it shortly becoming a touchstone for that misanthropic breed of climate catastrophist who rejoices at the plummeting birth rates around the world.]

For the parent seeking a respite from being assailed by feelings of inadequacy, the constant stream of new studies on parenting is probably easier to ignore than the doom-laden truthiness of Larkin, and a certain degree of cynicism is indeed in order about provisional ‘scientific’ findings that are all too often presented as incontrovertible fact [just remind yourself of what ‘the science’ had to say 20 years about the havoc that eating eggs would have on your health, versus what the ‘consensus’ is now].

That said, a new Australian study that’s just been published in a paediatric journal – and makes for depressing if not especially surprising reading – is nonetheless worth heeding.

In a nutshell, it finds the average three-year-old could be missing out on more than 1100 adult words, 840 vocalisations, and 194 conversations per day thanks to the high level of “modern screen use”, which obviously has some pretty dire implications for child development.

The researchers used Fitbit-like devices that were worn by kids for 16-hour periods at various stages between 12 and 36 months old, to measure how families’ screen use might be affecting communication between parents and toddlers.

The study found that, while current World Health Organisation screen time guidelines suggest one hour a day for children aged 36 months [which could still result in them missing out on up to 397 adult words, 294 vocalisations, and 68 conversational turns every day], the average time kids of that age spend watching screens is actually almost three times that amount – 172 minutes – with consequently worse outcomes.

While the lead researcher suggests ways to mitigate the impact of screen use on kids – “interactive co-viewing” for example – it would certainly appear that parking your kid in front of a screen should always be a last resort.

Who would’ve thought?

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