Raising our next generation in a digital world

You have a young family 🚲 and with that comes a big responsibility – you are raising our next generation. I have all the confidence you are doing a great job.

With the real world becoming increasingly more meshed with the digital world, we often have to set boundaries so that we don’t lose ourselves in cyberspace. Like any other source of gratification, our mobile phones can prove to be quite addicting.

It is nothing new that addictions have torn families apart since long before our times. It breaks my heart to hear abuse and neglect that stems from alcoholism or drug abuse.

One thing that may be overlooked when it comes to the strength of families and their abilities to raise children, is the usage of electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, and cell phones. 

I want to preface what I’m about to share with saying that these devices are NOT the enemy. In fact, they can be extremely useful in our professional and day-to-day lives. Not only that, but they can even enhance our abilities as parents. 

Too much time on phone

A Deficit of Attention

Recently I’ve made a few observations that were quite alarming. It’s heartbreaking to see a child being neglected or mishandled in public. You want to speak up and say something, however you know it’s not your place to do so most of the time. 

In these cases, it was parents diverting attention away from their children to fixate on their smartphones, or whatever device happened to be in front of them. 

Just a few days ago we were preparing to leave a fast food restaurant and what I saw shocked me – it woke something up in me…  

A Dad and his 10 to 12 year old son were having lunch together. What a great opportunity, to have lunch with Dad, just what a young boy needs right? But then my heart sank, Dad sat tuned in 100% to his cell phone the whole time! My heart ached, I actually didn’t believe it! This boy was completely well behaved too, sitting quietly while Dad ignored him.

I tried to justified it in my head. Surely Dad put down his phone after we left, right?

🌞Then yesterday something similar happened. My daughter and I were sitting waiting our turn to talk to a college advisor when we noticed a young couple near us were sitting with their very outgoing toddler who was probably between 3 and 4 years old.

Both parents were on their phone with the toddler playing between them. They never interacted with her unless she was sticking a “pretty picture” in front of their face.

🏃‍♀ She even spoke VERY LOUDLY so that they could hear her (and all of us; she was so cute!) Despite them ignoring her she was really a good child. Not only did they ignore, they never looked up and asked her to speak more quietly or to stay close to them…

🎠 These things scare me. Children of our next generation see and mimic this behavior from their parents and if we are not careful, we will have a whole generation of young people who are starved for attention.

A concerning trend

These stories are eye opening and concerning for many reasons. In a study conducted in 2015, one third of children surveyed claimed that their parents spend equal or less time with them, than on their devices. Over half of these children felt their parents check their phones too often.

I understand that work is important and could be the reason for a lot of this excessive device use. As a whole Americans tend to be overworked. We think that just by checking that one extra email, running that one extra report will help us get ahead to the point where they will be rewarded with more time for themselves and our kids. However this could turn into a rabbit hole that leads to more work than before. It’s important to step back and understand that the only certainty we have in our lives is the current. Living in the moment sounds cliche, but it is something many of us lose sight of unintentionally. 

If this time is being spent doing things like games or endlessly refreshing our social media feed, we need to realize what’s important when our kids are with us. This time could be better spent engaging and helping our kids become better.

The alternative can be devastating and is something that may not occur to us. Think about the example that we’re setting by constantly being on our phones. It’s shown time and time again that children pick up habits and behaviors from their parents, so by teaching them that this excessive electronic activity is normal, they will be more likely to be the same way as adults.

What can be done?

Unfortunately, there will always be distractions pulling people away from their parental duties. There’s not much we can do about that. However by consciously limiting and controlling the timing and amount of on-screen activity, we can set a better example for our children.

Jason, my colleague had limitations growing up for activities such as video games set by his parents. Otherwise he would have probably melted away into the screen for countless hours without ever seeing daylight or getting physical activity.

This is fairly common, however how often do we set and adhere to limitations put upon ourselves? It takes great willpower to limit ourselves and prevent indulgences no matter what it may be. Much like how we must limit our intake of unhealthy foods, we must limit our intake of electronic media. Here are some tips:

  • Use a planner or other helpful tool to budget time and allocate certain times throughout the day to check our phones. By doing this, we will find ourselves getting a lot of our other tasks complete as well.
  • Use this planner to make sure that your children are getting the proper amounts of attention as well. Plan breaks away from your children as well. This is important. We can’t be expected to be around our kids 24/7.
  • Make manageable, bite size changes. By flipping our schedule on its head and forcing ourselves to do something completely foreign to us immediately, will set us up for failure.
  • Find new ways to connect with your children. Look up creative, fun activities to build social skills and promote healthy brain growth.
  • Reward ourselves by exercising restraint and practicing good habits. This could be extra screen time for one day, or having our favorite snack.

If we practice these things, we can set an example to other parents to hopefully follow suit. 

There is hope

All of this may concern many of you. It definitely is a bit alarming to me. However, things aren’t all so bleak. There are some positive notes to be made as I dug further into research.

Studies show that occasional periods of inattention towards our children can actually be healthy.

Depending on the age of the child, it can be beneficial to teach children how to occupy themselves. You won’t always be nearby to coddle and respond to every whim they might have. Parents have left children unattended for centuries when needing to take care of adult responsibilities

The important thing is to limit these times to an acceptable frequency. When you are with your child, it’s best for you to stay off your phone as much as possible. 

In one study, researchers found that children reported themselves as feeling “sad, mad, angry, and lonely,” when parents spent time on their cell phones instead of interacting with them. 

Another study showed that of six thousand eight to thirteen year-olds, 32 percent reported feeling “unimportant” when their parents were involved with cell phones during conversations, meals, or other family times. 

We might not realize the toll that these types of behavior are taking on our young ones. That is why we must be conscientious to the signs that might hint at these problems.

I hope this was helpful and informative to you. I care deeply about our families in a time when family seems to be taking a back burner. Many of us can agree that there isn’t much that’s more important than the bond that family provides. It’s up to us to keep that bond alive for future generations to come.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any comments or would like to provide any input. 

Sources:

Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Put Your Phone Away and Pay Attention to Your Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/put-your-phone-away-and-pay-attention-to-your-kids/

Christakis, E. (2018, June 16). The Dangers of Distracted Parenting. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/

Christakis, E. (2018, June 16). The Dangers of Distracted Parenting. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/

Jason Short

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Jason Short

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