Worried that your kids may be spending too much time online? Are they texting incessantly? Tweeting when they should be studying? While this may be true, have you considered that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Truth is, you may be modeling this behavior for your child. Even worse, the time you spend on your cell phone or computer could be distracting you from the real task at hand—parenting.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain evidence suggests that smartphone use could be the culprit behind a 10 percent increase in unintentional childhood injuries. Before you object with the argument that multitasking is an effective way to manage your day, consider the fact that your concentration and performance is altered the moment you become aware of a new message on your smartphone. We already know the consequences of distracted driving. Is it any surprise that distracted parenting should have grave consequences as well?
To be fair, most parents don’t intend to ignore their children. But the research shows that simply being present is not enough. You should respond to and engage with your child. You’ve witnessed the mother in line at the grocery store, responding to a text message while a screaming toddler tugs at the hem of her dress. Or what about the dad who sits on a playground bench, responding to his email while his child wanders off to find attention elsewhere. Research shows that these scenarios have long-term consequences for your child, especially because parent-child interactions are necessary for proper growth and development. Simply put, a child who is ignored may feel neglected or not worth your time.
No one can expect to be responsive every minute of the day—and that may not be the best thing for your child anyway—but there are times when it’s best to simply put the smartphone away. If you feel like your smartphone or computer may be getting in the way of your parenting, here are a few things that might help:
- Restrict your smartphone use to certain hours of the day. That allows you to be totally present when you’re interacting with your child.
- Put all smartphones and tech tools away during the dinner hour. Countless studies cite family mealtime as an opportunity for conversation and personal connection, which in turn has a long-term positive effect on your child’s development.
- Declare at least one weekend day to be smartphone-free for every member of the family. Then put it away so you won’t be tempted to bend the rule.
- Spend a little time each day playing with your child. Or if your child is older, reserve this time for something special that you can do together, like playing a game or simply talking. The benefits of connecting with your son or daughter cannot be overstated.
- Tune in to your child when he or she needs your attention. Stop what you’re doing and respond to his or her needs. Whatever you’re doing at the time can most likely wait.
You’ve heard it many times before, but kids really do grow up fast. Give parenting your best shot while you still can.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street Columbus, OH 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.