Screen time hurts our kids—but it’s our screen time, not theirs!

threeParents need to be in the moment with their kids—not on their phones. I read a story in the Atlantic by Erika Christakis with lots of studies about how kids learn by hearing our voices, tones and through interaction. When we detach with our phones or are continually interrupting interaction, it affects our children’s healthy development.

My own daughter yells at me whenever I was with her but busy texting someone else—usually my son. She’d say “Mom, I’m here with you now!” Of course, she also is on her phone a lot and does snap chats while she’s with me. I don’t snap chat and really I don’t get it. Texting is enough for me. When my husband and I were first married, we’d go to our favorite Mexican restaurant for Huevos Ranchero on Saturday morning. We’d take different sections of the LA Times and read, rather than talk with each other. One week we saw a friend and he said, “Is this what married life is like? You stop talking?” We laughed at the time, but how many times do you see couples or families out together and everyone is busy on their screens?

The article cites several studies and it really emphasizes how damaging it is for us to be on our phones. It’s more damaging than our kids having way too much screen time themselves. Here are several excerpts from her article:

When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time—and more about their own.

Smartphones have by now been implicated in so many crummy outcomes—car fatalities, sleep disturbances, empathy loss, relationship problems, failure to notice a clown on a unicycle—that it almost seems easier to list the things they don’t mess up than the things they do. Our society may be reaching peak criticism of digital devices.

Even so, emerging research suggests that a key problem remains underappreciated. It involves kids’ development, but it’s probably not what you think. More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents.

Yes, parents now have more face time with their children than did almost any parents in history. Despite a dramatic increase in the percentage of women in the workforce, mothers today astoundingly spend more time caring for their children than mothers did in the 1960s. But the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz. Parents are constantly present in their children’s lives physically, but they are less emotionally attuned. To be clear, I’m not unsympathetic to parents in this predicament. My own adult children like to joke that they wouldn’t have survived infancy if I’d had a smartphone in my clutches 25 years ago.

Yet for all the talk about children’s screen time, surprisingly little attention is paid to screen use by parents themselves, who now suffer from what the technology expert Linda Stone more than 20 years ago called “continuous partial attention.” This condition is harming not just us, as Stone has argued; it is harming our children. The new parental-interaction style can interrupt an ancient emotional cueing system, whose hallmark is responsive communication, the basis of most human learning. We’re in uncharted territory.

In the early 2010s, researchers in Boston surreptitiously observed 55 caregivers eating with one or more children in fast-food restaurants. Forty of the adults were absorbed with their phones to varying degrees, some almost entirely ignoring the children (the researchers found that typing and swiping were bigger culprits in this regard than taking a call). Unsurprisingly, many of the children began to make bids for attention, which were frequently ignored. A follow-up study brought 225 mothers and their approximately 6-year-old children into a familiar setting and videotaped their interactions as each parent and child were given foods to try. During the observation period, a quarter of the mothers spontaneously used their phone, and those who did initiated substantially fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions with their child.

Occasional parental inattention is not catastrophic (and may even build resilience), but chronic distraction is another story. Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them. A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention. Short, deliberate separations can of course be harmless, even healthy, for parent and child alike (especially as children get older and require more independence). But that sort of separation is different from the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through his or her nonengagement that the child is less valuable than an email. A mother telling kids to go out and play, a father saying he needs to concentrate on a chore for the next half hour—these are entirely reasonable responses to the competing demands of adult life. What’s going on today, however, is the rise of unpredictable care, governed by the beeps and enticements of smartphones. We seem to have stumbled into the worst model of parenting imaginable—always present physically, thereby blocking children’s autonomy, yet only fitfully present emotionally.

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When you’re with your kids, be with in the moment.

When you’re with your children or spouse, how do you handle it when your kids are on their phones? Do you put your phone down or have a rule?

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