Technology is an amazing thing. It keeps us connected with friends and family, expands our minds with new information, and – let’s face it – entertains our kids when we need a little break. But as adults continue to debate how much screen time they should allow their children, they seem to be overlooking an equally important question: Are parents spending too much time on their smartphones? And is their dependence on devices harming their kids?
While it’s easy to focus on limiting screen time for children, there’s a parental addiction to technology that should also be addressed – especially in a world where almost half of adult smartphone users admit they can’t imagine life without their cherished devices.
It may come as a shock that parents in the US now spend more time with their children than they did in the 1960s. However, it’s important to note that quality is more important than quantity – and that being in the same room with your child doesn’t mean anything if you’re only focused on your social media feed.
Developmental progress in infancy and childhood is heavily reliant on parent-child interactions. One of the simplest forms of interaction is what Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child calls “serve and return.” This involves a parent being present and responding appropriately when a child babbles, gestures, or cries.
“As a pediatrician my focus in discussion with parents is almost all directed at the time children spend looking at screens. This is a great reminder for all parents to set down the phone and interact with their children. It reminds me a lot of a quote I heard a long time ago. “Wherever you are, be there.” It is so easy to be in the same room, but not present when on ones phone.”
When a parent is constantly distracted – by a smartphone or anything else – and fails to provide those responses, it can ultimately affect a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health during important stages of their brain development.
A study of infants and toddlers affected by parental smartphone usage found that:
Children crave the love and attention of their parents, so it likely comes as no surprise that kids who don’t receive such attention often act out.
When pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky and her colleagues became concerned about parents ignoring their children when they were on their phones, they began to observe parental phone usage at fast food restaurants. They found that:
The effects of smartphone usage by parents span far beyond the infant and toddler years. One study of children between the ages of 8 and 13 found that:
When you feel an urge to pick up your phone, these tips can help you exercise restraint and mindfulness:
As society continues to become even more reliant on technology, parental smartphone restraint will become increasingly important. Exercising that restraint can result in long-lasting benefits when it comes to the emotional, social, and physical well-being of your child.