Doing Life Together

screen-18870_1920I was sitting at a restaurant the other day watching a family of two parents and two children. The kids looked like they were grade school age. During the 5 minutes of watching them out of the corner of my eye, both parents appeared to be scrolling through text messages. No one was interacting and one of the kids started to misbehave. I wondered, is this what it takes to get the attention of mom and dad? One parent looked up from his phone, said, “Knock it off” to one child and then was back to texting. And guess what, the other child started acting up. Finally, the mom looked up and said, “What’s wrong with you two?”

I wanted to shout, “Really, what’s wrong with you?” But that would be rude, yet there is something to be said about what I saw and the absolute ignoring of the kids at the table. We have guidelines for kids and their use of screens, but what about the parent that can’t disconnect long enough to have a dinner conversation in a public restaurant?

A recent study confirms my frustration. 170 families were asked how often their technological devices diverted their attention from their children when they were spending time with their children. Most of the parents in the study were in their 30s in terms of age. Almost half (48%) said device distraction occurred about three times a day. And the more it happened, the more behavioral problems were noted in their kids. And parent screen time also increased child screen time.

So it is really simple–put down the mobile device, parents. Your texting or viewing can wait. Interact with your kids when they are with you. Your digital media habits are creating problems. Pay attention to the kids in  public places and they won’t have to act out in order to get your attention. This is a basic parenting principle that seems to be forgotten in our technical age. Kids want and need our attention. And they will act out to get it if ignored.

Furthermore, social interaction is how children learn to develop a sense of self and what to expect from other people. As Barbara Streisand sang,”People need people,” not devices for social learning to occur. During that restaurant meal, those ignored children could be learning to manage their own feelings, understand the feelings of their parents and have positive interaction that would train them in emotional intelligence. For example, parents could point to objects in the restaurant for discussion, talk about interesting looking people or play a game wondering what the people next to them do for a living. This type of activity stimulates curiosity and exploration. The kids are thinking and interacting with real people in their space, not an artificial device.

We don’t want to model bad habits or set our kids up to misbehave because we are not attending to them. And studies also tell us that the more parents limit their time on devices, kids will spend less time on digital media than their peers, an advantage in social development.

So the next time you are in a restaurant with your kids, stop texting, look up and enjoy the kids. They grow up too quickly and you will always have your devices. People do need people.

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