“When my parents check their phones while I’m talking to them, I feel like I’m not important.”
Those were the words of a ten-year-old boy. He was interviewed for a study on the effect of parental use of smartphones on their kids.
Because he was ten, he was able to speak his feelings – able to identify what goes on inside him when he’s trying to connect with his parents when they choose, instead, to see what’s happening on their phone.
So much is written these days about how much screen time children should have. But researchers are now seeing that it is as important, if not more important, to assess parents’ screen time and its impact on children.
Many of us are so desperately tied to our phones and devices that checking them, responding to a text or an email notification, or an app telling us it’s time for whatever – becomes the priority.
Responding to our phone is more important than what is going on right in front of us in real life, real time with real people.
We may be cozily reading to our 3-year-old and then the “ding”, or the catchy tune, or whatever signal we have on our device goes off and we jump to attention. Not attention to the little one snuggled up with us but to whomever or whatever is announcing its presence on our phone. It’s like we can’t resist its pull. It has amazing power over us.
“Who could that be?”
“What am I missing?”
“What do I need to hear about right now?”
“I have to stop reading to my child and find out!!”
Is this reasonable? Is it really the priority? Probably in our hearts we know it’s not. But somehow, somehow, we can’t resist.
“Just a minute sweetie, I just need to check this.”
And if we decide that we really want to read what ‘s there or answer the phone, we may get annoyed and snap at our impatient kids to “just wait a minute”.
WE don’t want to be interrupted.
But… we just interrupted our time with our kids.
The sweet spell cast by that close cuddly reading time together is broken. Yes, you can get back to the book, but something is lost.
The message to your three-year-old is clear – your phone is more important than they are.
That’s not our intention, but that’s the message.
The ten-year-old boy mentioned above could tell us what he’s feeling.
But… can our 3-year-old? Our toddler? Our baby?
Yes, they can.
Maybe the three-year-old tells us by acting out and “demanding attention”
Maybe the toddler tells us by having a tantrum.
Maybe the baby tells us by crying intensely and being unable to settle down when we’re busy on our phones.
Of course this doesn’t happen every time we answer our phone; we need to stay in touch and it’s part of our lives. But it’s important to take a real look at how and when we respond to our phone and how often we interrupt our meaningful time with our children to respond to that electronic “being” that has taken up residence in our family.
One of the big reasons we get so dependent on our phones is that they make us feel connected. It mitigates our “Fear of Missing Out”, our fear of being isolated, lonely, especially when we have young children which is, in our culture, can be a very isolating experience.
The human need for connection is deep and intense. We all have it.
It is most profoundly felt by our children, be they babies or teenagers. What they want more than anything is connection with the people they love the most… generally their parents.
All the talk about “quality time” is real. Children want real connection, which is what quality time is.
But when we interrupt that quality time to respond to our phones, we disconnect. It’s like we hang up on them.
So this is a call to be mindful as to how and when we use our phones and devices. How often are we “hanging up” on our kids, our partners, our friends? And is that what we really want to be doing?
It’s strongly recommended that all families have stretches of no-phone time – over dinner, when everyone gets home from daycare or school or work, at bedtime, after dinner game time, bath time – whatever works for your family. But do it seriously.
You can start small – 15 minutes a day. Then work your way up to longer stretches. Tell your friends and family that from 5-6 in the evening you are not available to take calls (or whatever time works for you).
Unless there is an emergency, just TURN OFF EVERYONE”S PHONE! If it causes great anxiety and you feel lost and insecure, it’s a sign that your phones have way too much control over you, and that it’s time for you to be the ”boss” of them.
Let’s make sure our kids know that they are more important than our phones.
I’ve attached a few interesting articles about smartphone addiction and the impact of parental phone use on children. Hope you find them helpful.
Photo credit: Moritz Dittmar