Unmasking? Maybe. Unphoning? Definitely.

Hi Everyone,

I wrote this when we were thick in the debate about mask mandates. In many quarters, that conversation is a bit quieter. But it’s a good backdrop for this current message.

This was written a few months ago—

Some parents are concerned that masking up the lower face impedes their children’s ability to read social cues, while other parents believe the trade-off for covid safety is worth it.

Whichever side of the conversation you are on, please consider this suggestion to offset possible negatives of mask-wearing. If we’re determined to unmask our kids for their own social benefit, let’s first consider un-phoning ourselves. 

Adult caregivers create the environment for our kids’ social-emotional and intellectual growth, independent of whether they are wearing a mask at school. 

Human children are born with immature nervous systems.

Early social interaction creates a sense of safety in infants and builds a stable, regulated nervous system.  Our children need eye contact, voice modulation from their primary caregivers and lots of soothing touch for social development. 

Alongside early social development, infants do their first problem solving through varied movement and tactile activities (touching and chewing on stuff)

Movement is essential to brain development.

All of that looking, reaching, struggling, rolling is actually developing more complex thinking abilities. 

On top of being adorable, babies are hard at work.

Infants and young children  (and the rest of us, but one thing at a time) need consistent social interaction and the messy three-dimensional world of crayons, puzzles, blocks, songs, dirt and running up the slide. Though children spend a great deal of time at school, their home caregivers are their primary teachers. 

If we are on our phones, and we’ve given our children a screen too, then they are getting none of these things from us or their environment. 

We live in a world of high stimulation and connectedness. We are used to it. For many parents, their phone may seem like an important emotional support. We don’t need to throw them out, but we can manage to put them down a whole lot more.

We’ve all seen it. Entire families at a restaurant on their phones.   Kids asking for attention at a playground, at the beach, in a store .  . and left to their own devices (literally) with a parent deeply involved in their own phone.

If kids seem disconnected, lots of us are too. And we wonder why our kids aren’t comfortable engaging socially.

The foundation of the Feldenkrais Method is about having choice—about living in that slice of a moment between intention and action.

The moment that text drops in, we can choose not to live at the end of a digital leash. We can prioritize the people in the room over that text.  Our people will still love us and CVS won’t go out of business if you don’t answer the survey.

So please, on behalf of our kids and each other. Let’s un-phone ourselves. Not permanently, but more is better.

Let’s help children build neurological connections that create appropriate social responses, problem-solving, impulse control, intelligence and creativity. They will not develop these things from poking at a screen, even if they do memorize their letters early.  

Masks may or may not create challenges in communication, but un-phoning ourselves to be fully present with our kids for play, conversation, coloring and physical activity will have a more important and longer-lasting effect than the time they spend behind a mask in the classroom.