You may be the cause!

young boy play games on phoneHaving a teenager lost in his or her cellphone – texting friends, even communicating with parents in monosyllabic grunts – has become the norm around the dinner table. If there is a dinner table (that’s another topic). When we were teens, we talked for hours on the phone. Now that same kind of contact happens through texting. But teens aren’t the only ones distracted by their devices.

Many parents have the same problem – and the consequences for their children can be troubling.

Dr. Jenny Radesky is a pediatrician specializing in child development. When she worked at a clinic in a high-tech savvy Seattle neighborhood, Radesky started noticing how often parents ignored their kids in favor of a mobile device. She remembers a mother placing her phone in the stroller between herself and the baby. “The baby was making faces and smiling at the mom,” Radesky says, “and the mom wasn’t picking up any of it; she was just watching a YouTube video.”

This was not a scientific study, Radesky is quick to point out. It was more like anthropological observation, complete with detailed field notes. Forty of the 55 parents used a mobile device during the meal, and many, she says, were more absorbed in the device than in the kids.

Face-to- face interactions are the primary way children learn. Remember when your parents said, “Look at me when I’m talking to you”?

Radesky says “They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

In research for her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 1 and 18 asking them about their parents’ use of mobile devices. The language that came up over and over and over again, she says, was “sad, mad, angry, and lonely.”

Steiner-Adair says one of the challenges we all face is that these devices are wired to grab our attention and keep it. She says the most successful apps are popular, even addictive, because they tap into a reward mechanism in our brains.

A friends nephew got a laptop for school. And because he was becoming more independent, they got him a phone. They set up rules for when he could use this stuff and when he needed to put it away.

Most adults don’t set up limits in their own lives.

Therefore we need to model the behavior we want to see in our children.

Help kids find a space for face-to- face conversations.

  • Put phones down, even power them off so you don’t see the screen light up with a notification, during key conversation times such as dinner or car rides.
  • Avoid texting in the car.
  • Consider explaining your phone use (“I’m looking up directions to the party”) so young kids understand the utility of the smartphone.
  • Charge your kids’ phones in your room at night. Removing their phones can give kids a needed break.

If your kids are having trouble putting the phone away when you ask or are engaging in other problem phone-related behavior consider temporary time or location restrictions. Some phone providers offer parental controls that let you set daily phone-use limits.

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