01/22/2015 05:40 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Texting and Sitting: The Dangers Of Distracted Caregivers

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It is well documented that texting and smart phone use leads to distracted behavior -- and not just when we're behind the wheel. When it comes to caring for young children, constant cell phone use is blamed for problems ranging from an increase of accidents at the park because parents are focused on phones to emotional disconnection that can lead to children pleading for attention and full focus. In fact, the problems caused by distracted caregivers could not only be physical and emotional, but cognitive as well.

Studies tell us that 90 percent of the human brain grows by the age of three. For the brain to grow children need repetitive, positive interactions with their caregivers. They need someone focused on them, responding to their needs, listening to their babbles and someone who will talk and babble back. We now know that these positive interactions not only create emotional attachment bonds, but they actually promote brain growth and the creation of neural pathways as well.

If babysitters, daycare workers or nannies are on their smartphones, texting, emailing and otherwise distracted they are not only stunting this important emotional bonding, but also cognitive growth. Sadly most parents are unaware of how dangerous these distracted caregivers can be, as they are focused on the child's physical needs such as being fed, clothed and kept safe, but they are unaware of the "benign neglect" being committed as these equally important emotional and cognitive needs are overlooked.

Parents need to emphasize to their caregivers the importance of putting away their phones while at work as someone would do in any other job. Of course it is difficult to completely disconnect, however, during work hours most professionals check in at certain points throughout the day and for caregivers this would be when the children are napping or engaged in another activity. However when the children are awake, these caregivers are being paid to provide quality one-to-one physical and emotional interaction like that of a teacher or nurse. Sadly, I have seen it countless times -- a nanny pushing a child in the swing in the park with her eyes on her phone, or care providers at daycare centers leaving the children alone while they read their phones in another room.

Of course, not all caregivers do this, as there are countless wonderful and attentive childcare providers out there. However, the ones that are on their phones and are distracted are failing the children for whom they are entrusted to care. Parents worldwide need to view smart phones as a direct danger to their child's brain growth and demand that a child's cognitive needs are met as equally and as importantly as child's physical needs. If a caregiver would think it cruel to withhold food all day, they must be informed to understand that by being on a phone they are starving a child's brain from the critical interactions it needs to grow and thrive.

Achieving this cognitive growth is not expensive, nor is it complex. All it requires is for a caregiver to be looking at the eyes of a child, talking to him, responding to him, smiling at him and engaging him all day long. In a world where parents purchase everything under the sun to make their children "smarter," they need to understand that far more important than flashcards, expensive toys, or newest apps is being left with a caregiver who will commit to put the phones down for good.

About the Author: A licensed therapist and certified parenting coach, Tammy Gold (LCSW, MSW, CEC) is the author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and founder of Gold Parent Coaching. A frequent guest expert on Good Morning America, Fox News, & CBS News among others, Gold is one of the first therapists to bring traditional psychotherapy tools to the process of finding and enhancing the quality of childcare.