Parenting has always been a sport of sorts. Moms have always compared notes about first words and first steps; dads have bragged about early signs of athletic or intellectual prowess for ages. But recently social media and other technologies have magnified the playing field, which can result in anxiety, especially for those new to the game. So to help parents navigate all this tricky business, we talked to two local pediatricians, Dr. Eric Gustafson and Dr. Randy Uyeno at Pediatric Associates, about the truth behind developmental milestones, and why there’s no real reason to compete.
Reflections magazine: IS IT JUST US, OR ARE PARENTS MORE COMPETITIVE THESE DAYS?
Dr. Eric Gustafson: “In some ways they are, but that’s because there’s more of an outlet for it. I think the difference with social media is that the circle of influence is larger than it might have been. Parents have always compared their kid to other neighborhood kids or cousins; there’s always been that dynamic. But in those scenarios, they were watching the other children directly, seeing both positive and negative behavior. With the filter of social media, people filter out the negative. They over-post positive and don’t post the negative, and that can add anxiety.”
“I think parents can do two things: They can reflect on themselves about the types of things they post on social media, and then think about the fact that other people are doing the same. Also, remember everybody is struggling with other things: development, behavior issues. They just do not post as much about it.”
RM: WITH THAT IN MIND, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PARENTS CONCERNED ABOUT NAVIGATING EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONES?
Dr. Randy Uyeno: “Milestones are actually related to different talents, and people develop at different ages. The first thing for parents to know is that if they focus on any one thing, it’s going to drive them crazy. It’s the whole picture. Some people are intellectual. Some babies are more athletic; you can tell from muscle tone which ones are going to be really athletic from the first time you see them. The kids with low tone, you’re going to have to push them along to do anything athletically, which can translate into walking and crawling. The kids with the high tone will be early crawlers and walkers. It doesn’t make one better than the other.”
“I think the most important early milestone is eye contact, when they are looking back at you. In the first month, if they look at you and smile it’s because they’re passing gas, it’s random. But by two or three months, they ought to be looking back at you with eye contact. Certainly at four months you ought to be able to get the kid to smile and laugh and do something back to you, or I worry about those kids. That means we should be on the lookout for autism, or perhaps there is a visual problem. Autism is the big scare, and the first sign is not much eye contact, and the second one is not much communication.”
RM: SPEAKING OF WALKING AND TALKING, WHEN SHOULD PARENTS BE CONCERNED?
Dr. Randy Uyeno: “They should first stand up in between nine and 12 months, and they should be walking while holding on to things in between 12 to 14 months. Walking independently should happen around 15 months of age. If kids aren’t doing this, parents should talk to their provider, but also they should be stimulating them. Simple stimulation is a good thing. When the child is awake and alert, something should be happening with them; they should be interacting with a person.”
Dr. Eric Gustafson: “People have the concept that their child should be talking by age one. In reality, we just like to hear one or two words, normally ‘mama’ or ‘dada.’ At 15 or 18 months, there should be at least another word or two. If by 18 months you’re not hearing another word, you might want to get an evaluation.
“It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time if there is a specific delay it is just that: a delay in acquiring that specific skill at that specific time. With therapy, although not in every case, it will basically go away, which is why we try to identify it early.”
RM: FALLING IN LINE WITH RECENT NUTRITION FADS, SOME PARENTS CLAIM MAKING THEIR OWN BABY FOOD IS THE ONLY GOOD WAY TO FEED YOUNG CHILDREN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT NUTRITION AND HOW FAR PARENTS SHOULD GO?
Dr. Eric Gustafson: “I try not to be absolute about anything, but minimizing highly processed foods and foods high in sugar is best. It’s not as important to pay attention to every fad of the day, but highly processed foods are shown to not be as good for you and your body, and that goes for all children. In reality, it’s more about having a balanced diet, moderation, choosing fresh healthy foods and portions.“
Dr. Randy Uyeno: “There isn’t any right answer. In an ideal world, you would grow your own food, be assured of the source, cook it and grind it into baby food, but you could spend all day long doing that, and nobody has time for that, so don’t drive yourself crazy. Plus, in terms of toxins, everything’s bad, even an organic apple; because you have to think, where did the water come from? And chances are it was a polluted water source. The more control you have over your sources, the better, but just feeding your kids fresh, real food is the most important thing.”
RM: ONE OF THE toughest TOPICS IN PARENTING THESE DAYS IS HOW TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY INTO KIDS’ LIVES. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT WHEN KIDS SHOULD BE EXPOSED TO IT?
Dr. Eric Gustafson: “From what we understand, the screen is not a great place to learn. The way the brain works is that in the first two years of life they really require interaction to learn. Games on devices don’t provide the type of interaction the child needs. They learn from a person with a face, who is correcting them or giving them positive feedback; I have yet to see a device be able to do that. At some age, it is a kind of learning, but it’s not what they need when they are young.”
Dr. Randy Uyeno: “Less technology, the better when they’re young. For a baby, if there’s no context, it means nothing. For a baby to see a screen with numbers and letters strolling by makes absolutely no sense at all. The first step to learning, language acquisition, they can only get from interaction.”
RM: HOW LONG DO YOU KEEP TECHNOLOGY AWAY FROM KIDS WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH PRESSURE FROM THEIR PEERS, WHO MOST LIKELY ALL HAVE DEVICES? ALSO, HOW DO YOU TALK TO THEM ABOUT BEING SAFE WHEN YOU DO GIVE IT TO THEM?
Dr. Randy Uyeno: “When kids get older, school age, we’re recommending less than one to two hours of screen time per day, excluding when they're in school, the recreational side of screen time. And that means all screens—TVs, tablets, computers. As for cell phones, you should get it for them when they need it for safety, and that’s different for every child”
“There’s one specific effect of technology that has been studied and that’s ADD [attention deficient disorder]. There have been studies that show increased screen time puts kids at an increased risk for those types of issues. Plus, they are missing out on human interaction. That’s a big part of growing up, interacting with other kids, learning how to treat another human being. And the last thing is obesity; increased screen time is directly related to increased risk of obesity.”
Dr. Eric Gustafson: “Have the conversation about safety on the Internet early; the earlier the better. Most parents are on social media themselves, so they know what goes on. Have conversations about the negative aspects, like bullying, and tell them that you can help them if that’s happening. The worst thing that can happen is they can internalize it, so just let the conversation be open.”
RM: DO YOU HAVE ANY LAST ADVICE FOR KEEPING CHILDREN HAPPY AND SAFE AS THEY GROW?
Dr. Randy Uyeno:“I think it’s really important to figure out what kids are passionate about at an early age. If you don’t push your kid at all, then your kid could end up in high school with no direction, no goals, no interests, and the danger is they’ll end up on drugs or in trouble. They should be pushed into something, and it doesn’t matter what it is.”
“Also, create family time. Nobody has time for anything anymore, and that’s a problem. Carve out time for family. Dinners every night are great. I think joining a club like the Bellevue Club is great because there are things the whole family can do at the same time.”
More babies are born to unmarried mothers than ever before. Unmarried women accounted for 41% of births in 2011, up from just 5% in 1960. In 2011, 72% of births to black women were to unmarried mothers, compared with 53% of births to Hispanic women and 29% of births to white women. (The sample size was too small to analyze results among Asians.) But just 9% of new mothers with a bachelor’s degree, regardless of race, were unmarried when they gave birth.*
Families today are more blended and differently constructed. Nearly half (44%) of young people ages 18 to 29 have a step sibling. About half as many (23%) of those ages 50 to 64—and just 16% of those 65 or older—have a step sibling.*
Today’s dads say they spend as much or more time with their kids than their own parents spent with them. In a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 46% of fathers and 52% of mothers said they personally spend more time with their children than their own parents spent with them.*
Who are American moms? There are about 85 million mothers in America, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Our analysis of census data shows that the share of mothers with kids younger than 18 at home has declined. Today, about a third (34%) of women ages 18-64 have young children at home; in 1960, 52% did. And women are having children at a later age than they used to. In 2012, the average age of a first-time mother was 25.8 years, up from 21.4 years in 1970. The marital status of mothers has also changed dramatically. In 1960, nearly all mothers with young children were married, compared with just seven-in-ten today. About four-in-ten (41%) of all births today are to unmarried women; up from just 5% of births in 1960.*
*All Family Facts are taken from the Pew Research Center's website.