Plugged in Parents

While many parents worry about how much time their children spend glued to a digital device or television a study by Common Sense Media of 1,786 parents found that many of them with kids [8-12 years] and teens [13-18 years] spend more than 9 hours a day with screen media and the vast majority of that is spent on personal use.

The research also found that despite being worried about their child’s screen use and reflecting on their own, only 78% of those parents believe they are good media role models for their children. On a positive note some parents are being proactive about managing their family’s screen use:

78% do not allow mobile devices during family meals

34% do not allow mobile devices when guests are visiting

9% do not allow car passengers to use mobile devices

Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media and father of four offers this advice. ‘Get rid of the phones, get rid of your laptops, get rid of all those devices, and just be there with your kids, and create device free spaces, which our colleague at MIT Sherry Turkle refers to as ‘sacred spaces’, where there is just no device in between you and your children. 

In her TED Talk, Alone Together Turkle observes that young people must contend with distracted parents who with their smartphones may be physically present but ‘mentally elsewhere.’

In response to a question about their parents’ use of devices and the impact on their children 12-year-olds offered the following insights:

My parents tell me to look up from my phone, but when I need to talk about something before going to school, they’re already working on their phones, checking emails.’

‘My mum keeps telling me to value my whole self and to turn my camera around once in a while. To look out at the world. And yet she always asks me which of her selfies she should post.’

In support of these views, the Raising Children Network observes ‘Screens can get in the way of interactions between parents and children – for example, if parents interrupt conversations with children to check text messages. If this happens often, children might feel they’re not important.’

While it’s increasingly easier to calculate the time spent on various activities using smartphones, generally people underestimate the number of minutes they spend constantly checking their phones. But each minute takes parents away from real life interactions with their children and experts advise that while the Internet is here to stay our objective should be to learn to manage it so it ‘contributes, rather than dominates our lives.’

Being fully present with your children helps them to understand the importance of connecting with each other in a meaningful way and this will shape their own balanced and respectful use of technology especially when they are with others.

How to Unplug

Implementing some strategies to help minimise digital distractions and unplug yourself from devices will go a long way to reduce negative impacts on family relationships and behaviour.

Strategies include:

  • being mindful of your phone and technology use
  • developing an awareness of being present’ and in the moment with your children rather than having your mind elsewhere
  • asking yourself, “Can this wait until later?” before you engage with content on your phone
  • ensuring adults in the family are consistent in their approach to  minimising technoference, and most of all
  • not feeling guilty — because it is about awareness, not guilt.

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