Put Down Your Phone

Wolfie (10 months) and BooGuest post by Tracy Cutchlow.

I can hear your sputters of protest already: Is such an extreme measure really necessary?

Science can’t tell you for sure. There is no definitive research (yet) about the effects of smartphones and other digital devices. But we do know a few important things about ourselves as humans, and these things can help inform how and when you use your phone.


We are social animals. We thrive on face-to-face interaction, and we don’t function well without it. Human interaction is so important that, in baby’s first years, it is what turns on the brain for certain types of learning.

The most important thing in your child’s life is his or her relationships. With you, with siblings, with friends; eventually with classmates and teachers, with colleagues and bosses, with romantic partners, with his or her own children. What makes for good relationships? Things you learn through lots of face-to-face interaction: communication skills, empathy, and control over your emotions and behavior. A large part of communication is nonverbal: interpreting facial expressions, gestures, and body language.


Children need a ton of practice reading other people. Studies show how much time it takes to understand nonverbal communication:

  • Three-year-olds are better than 2-year-olds at understanding the facial expressions that add meaning to an utterance (such as a look implying “you need to do this” with a directive to clean up the toys).
  • Four-year-olds are able to identify and communicate emotions in body movement at a rate better than chance; 5-year-olds are even better at it.
  • Eight-year-olds are as good at reading nonverbal signs as adults.

Children can’t practice reading people if one (or both) of you is buried in a device.

Great relationships are the secret to happiness. Being truly present with your child, partner, and friends makes for more fulfilling relationships. And that’s the key to the good life.


I have a personal ban on checking my phone or opening up my laptop when baby’s around.

I fail at least once a day. But I can see that it’s worth trying. I can tell that my digital devices suck me in for longer than I intend. And I can tell that my baby is upset about being ignored—just as I am when I’d like to communicate with someone and they’re more entranced by a glowing screen.

So I’ll send a quick text message in the kitchen while baby’s busy in her high chair. I may check in just before a run, when she’s facing away in the jogging stroller. I’ve turned off the automatic e-mail sync, so I don’t see a visual indicator on my phone that I have e-mail, and feel the need to read it right then. My phone is often set to vibrate, so it’s not a distraction. My laptop is tucked away until nap time or bedtime.

I’m not saying we should avoid digital devices entirely. But it is worth considering how much of our time they should take up, and how and when they should be used.

These days, it takes effort to create conditions that encourage, not discourage, real live interaction.

Excerpted from Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science by Tracy Cutchlow,

Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned So Far) is a different kind of parenting book–one you’ll actually have time to read. It’s beautifully photographed, with one tip per page. Zero to Five summarizes the best research on a range of topics: engaging with baby, sleeping, feeding, screen time, discipline, and more. Get a sneak peek of the book.

Opening photo of Wolfie (10 months). Copyright Betty Udesen/Pear Press.

team-tracyTracy Cutchlow is the author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned So Far)She was the editor of the bestselling book Brain Rules for Baby. As a journalist, she has worked for MSN Money and the Seattle Times. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter. Get more of Tracy’s parenting tips. 

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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of peggyomara.com. Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

One thought on “Put Down Your Phone

  1. Anna Tamás

    I totally agree with the personal ban on checking the phone or opening up the laptop when children are around. I am a mother of three children, one is already a teenager. I think that how parents co-live with the media devices is an example for the kids.
    Do we wake up in the morning because of the beep sound of the bank notice what is automatically sent by the bank at early morning? Or we turn off the cell phones for the night?
    Where do I check the time? On the cell phone? Or on a watch?
    To look for a street on the map, does my husband automatically open the internet based maps, or we open the paper-based maps, so that kids learn how to use it?
    The same for the dictionary.
    Many questions day by day, about the boundary of using the media.
    Thank You for discussing it.

    Hungary, Europe


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