How Screens and Smartphones Can Empower, Respect and Communicate Love to Toddlers (And Maybe Make Them Smarter?)

The solution is your child herself, and the role that technology can play in documenting and presenting her experiences to her. It’s a solution that I have found to be startlingly effective and which redefines the perceived meaning of those smart devices in our children’s lives. It is a solution that is really not that hard to realize, but it does require an ability to step back, observe and document. It means that you, as a parent, have to reorient your stance in relationship to your child’s play and reconsider why you take videos and pictures in the first place. You have to push past the desire to capture “cute moments,” or the urge to redirect your child’s attention to the fact that you are taking a picture. It does require some patience, but the rewards are many.

This approach is neither a manifestation of the heavily-caricatured “helicopter parent,” nor is it so-called “free range parenting.” Your presence during play is powerful, and your absence can remove an important opportunity for you to communicate love and respect for your child in play, which for the child is a state of thinking, understanding, exploring and naming experience that comes from the autonomous expression of will. Intervention and a desire for control will stifle your child’s agency and the development and expression of competence, while at the same time, disengaged distance can be perceived by your child as disregard for the value of her experience.

There are few activities that we need to arrange for toddlers. Whatever specific thing you think a toddler should be doing, is probably not something your toddler came up with on her own. Arrange for time and places, places filled with opportunities to take risks and discover, time that starts and then ends with your child’s play intention acted upon to its natural conclusion. That place need not be a forest or a children’s museum — not bad places, but then they are not accessible to everyone. The place could be a field, or the street, or the floor of your living room. It can be anywhere that does not introduce danger beyond your child’s control.

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Jesse Coffino

Jesse Coffino

CEO, Anji Education, Inc. and Chair, True Play Foundation. East Bay California based educator, author, translator and interpreter of Chinese, and dad.