Psychological research has revealed that the nature of adult relationships are largely determined by parent-child attachments established in infancy. Amongst infants, there are three basic attachment styles categorized by how an infant responds to separation distress from a caregiver. Secure attachments in infants are characterized by distress when the caregiver leaves and is easy to soothe upon their return. Then, insecure attachments such as anxious-ambivalent and avoidant were distressed upon the caregiver’s absence and return or unresponsive to his or her absence and return. Notably, babies with secure attachments will likely grow to be secure adults (Schneider et al., 2012). Overall, the infant’s patterns of attachment continue to characterize their adult reactions to love, threat, and loss in relationships later in life.
Clearly, attachment styles are an essential component of a child’s psychological development in infancy, childhood, and across the lifespan. Therefore, it is important to analyze potential factors that may obstruct healthy parent-child attachment and prevent a child from going on to have more secure attachments later in life. Technology use in children is one element of concern in terms of healthy child development, as, excessive amounts of screen time have proven to impair cognitive and social development (Hadlington et al., 2019). Unsurprisingly, research has found that a rise in the use of digital technology in the home by children is changing the nature of home life. Consequently, caregivers that rely on digital parenting often find themselves in conflict with their children when it comes to mediating and setting limitations on technology usage (Hadlington et al., 2019).
Recent studies have shown that by age 1 more than one-third of babies had touched and scrolled on a screen, then by age 2 fifty percent had watched tv shows or played games on apps or devices (Courtney & Nowakowski-Sims, 2019). The researchers outlined that device usage decreases physical human connection, undermining the vital human need for communication that is necessary to form early attachments. In infants and children, social and emotional skills are learned through play activities, as, it allows for enrichment and affective exchanges between parents and children (Courtney & Nowakowski-Sims, 2019). Too much screen time can interrupt these essential exchanges and interfere with learning by diminishing in-person interactions.
Regular parent-infant engaging experiences that create joy synchronize neural activity in the right cortex of the brain between the parent and child. Researchers Courtney and Nowakowski-Sims (2019) describe caring touch as essential for releasing “feel good” neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Importantly, touch and warmth activate the calm and connection system, bringing feelings of wellbeing to the child that foster strong, secure attachment. Though, sadly, the negative impact of excessive screen time not only affects relationships, but also a child’s early neurological wiring and later function (Courtney & Nowakowski-Sims, 2019). Infants are hypersensitive to electronic stimuli, and an excess can cause a sensory overload as the brain struggles to adjust to the overwhelming amount of incoming information. During development, repeated exposure to superfast processing may cause a permanent change in the brain’s processing speeds. Unfortunately, some of these changes include higher activity levels, risk-taking, diminished short-term memory and poorer cognitive functioning (Courtney & Nowakowski-Sims, 2019).
Researchers Hadlington, White, and Curtis (2019) discovered that when 8-10-year-old children used their tablets, children became fully immersed in the tablet devices provided. This resulted in a loss of conscious awareness, that in some instances, children sought out to create more privacy and isolation from the outside world; reducing interactions with their environment and people around them (Hadlington et al., 2019). Children that displace screen time with social interaction are isolated from family life in a way that undermines social and familial relationships. In turn, children that supplant technology with caregiver interaction may develop a more avoidant attachment style later in life that makes it difficult for him or her to form healthy social and romantic connections.
In summation, excessive use of technology in infancy and early childhood has the potential to impair attachment and overall social-skills, mood, and neurological functioning that pose implications throughout the lifespan. Additionally, when children are pacified with portable devices, it directly impairs their ability to regulate strong emotions. In conclusion, by replacing talking, singing, nurturing touch, and play activities with maladaptive electronic usage, the parent-child bond is ultimately likely to result in an avoidant or insecure attachment style when compared with children who received more nurturing interactions early in life (Courtney & Nowakowski-Sims, 2019).
Courtney, J. A., & Nowakowski-Sims, E. (2019). Technology’s impact on the parent-infant attachment relationship: Intervening through FirstPlay® therapy.International Journal of Play Therapy, 28(2), 57-68. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1037/pla0000090
Hadlington, L., White, H., & Curtis, S. (2019). “I cannot live without my tablet]”: Children’s experiences of using tablet technology within the home. Computers in Human Behavior, 94, 19-24. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1016/j.chb.2018.12.043
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology. Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.