Touch is the second critical requirement for healthy child development according to Occupational Therapist Cris Rowan. She describes it this way, “Adequate touch helps a child to know where their body is in space, and is important for helping a child to feel calm and relaxed. A child who is deprived of touch exhibits anxiety, fear and has difficulty adapting to any new environment or situation.”
Until I began my research on the effects of tech overuse I instinctively knew that physical touch was important for kids but I never purposefully incorporated it into our daily lives. We hugged and we snuggled while reading a book but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about how important all that touch was for their brain development. I learned that children need sensory tactile stimulation to develop normally. This means that your child needs to be touched a lot. Our skin is our biggest organ packed full of nerve cells (over 70,000 tactile receptors per square inch) that directly communicate with our brains and this critical input is needed for development and learning. A child’s touch requirement is so important that without adequate amount of touch he/she may develop tactile sensory disorders. He may want to touch everything in sight or not touch anything at all or have anything (like tags on his shirt) touch his skin. This lack of touch will also affect your child’s ability to coordinate and complete his body movement because the tactile system is very necessary for purposeful body movement. He will also be more anxious and may have learning problems. Babies who are not touched enough are anxious and agitated. Children who are not touched enough can’t learn; using all of his senses, including touch, is critical for language development and learning.
Technology does not meet this need for physical touch. When your child is on the computer just the small tips of his fingers are being ‘touched’ by a non-human plastic key. Technology takes your child away from daily touch opportunities. It is difficult for your child to get human touch when he is on a game. It is hard to wrestle with your brother (a great form of touch) and be on the game at the same time. It is impossible for mom to adequately touch her child when both of her hands are on the keypad. Not only is there social isolation from tech overuse, but there is physical isolation resulting in a parent who is not fully available to their child and a child who is deprived, depressed, anxious and scared, which, according to Cris Rowan, gives rise to mental states that prohibit learning.
It is easy to hug and snuggle and touch a baby but how does my older child get enough touch? It is not as hard as you think. Simply incorporate meaningful pats on the back, hugs and deep shoulder rubs into your every day life. Now when my boys run through the door I think more about a quick touch opportunity: rubbing their shoulders or arms, tousling their hair, or giving them a high five. My husband also is more meaningful with their touch. Older boys love to wrestle with dad for fun the way little boys loved to be tickled. They crave it because their sensory systems crave it. It is not a behavioral problem or an attention getter, they need to be touched ‘boy’ style. Since it seems easier at times for girls to get enough physical touch, we may have to be more purposeful to make sure our boys get enough. The pool and the trampoline also make for great touch opportunities. Give your child a pat on the back today and give yourself one too for caring enough to balance his technology with his childhood!