Friday, March 21, 2014

Are Smartphones Making Us Stupid Parents?

I recently read this article that was forwarded to me by my husband, which had been sent to him by his dad. I'm posting the article in its entirety here:
Smartphones truly can do a lot, but can they make the user a bad parent?  Research is showing that smartphones may not be a smart choice for parents.  It is still unclear how much of an impact smartphone usage is having on children, but it is definitely making an impact.
Researchers from Boston Medical Center observed the interactions of 55 groups in 15 different fast food restaurants. The groups had to meet the criteria of at least one adult caregiver and a child who appeared to be under age 10. 40 of the 55 groups used their smartphone at some point during the meal. What the researchers found in their study was that smartphone use affects the way individuals parent.
Individuals who were engrossed in their smartphones responded less and more harshly than those who used their phone only for phone calls.  For example, one woman got angry after the young boy at her table lost his straw in his juice box.  She had not seen it happen because she was looking at her phone and claimed he pushed it in before taking his drink away.
Children responded differently while their parents appeared oblivious to them.  Some children accepted the lack of attention and ate quietly.  Other children engaged with children at their table or nearby.  One child repeatedly asked her caregiver questions, undeterred by her caregiver’s response, which was to nod without saying anything and without looking up from her phone. Other children tried a little harder to get their caregiver’s attention by displaying disruptive behaviors. They continued to engage in these behaviors until they received negative attention from their caregiver.
This research shows that being so engaged in a smartphone might not be  a smart choice for parents.  If parents are opting for smartphone usage over conversations with their child, it is possible that the child’s vocabulary will suffer.  Conversations are the biggest predictor of the child’s vocabulary.  The downfalls do not end with vocabulary.  Social and emotional skills may also be hindered.
Mealtimes provide an important opportunity to interact with children.  If parents are too busy interacting with their phones, then their interactions with their children will be limited.  The study is not suggesting to do away with one’s phone, but rather to use it responsibly.
This study is meant to be just a step in determining how smartphone usage affects parenting and children.  The researchers point out that the study is also trying to determine if smartphone usage is more distracting to a parent than other activities a parent may engage in while caring for their children.
There are certain events during the day where children benefit from parents engaging with them.  Mealtime and bed time are two in particular. These times when the parent is not typically working are important times to connect with one’s child rather than a mobile device.  During these times children get to experience conversation, which will increase their vocabulary as well as emotional skills.  It will also allow the child a chance to feel connected, and will teach them that paying attention to other people is important.
The key is for parents to make smart choices with their smartphones, and not be distracted by them all the time.  One simple way to do this; moderation.  Usingmobile devices in moderation is a good way to ensure that the parent is still interacting with their child at other times of the day.
This article made me think about how I act when I'm on my own phone or on the computer "trying to get something done." I feel like I'm a minor user when it comes to both devices, but I wonder if my kids would second my opinion?
How many times have I gone to a restaurant or a kids' park and seen examples of people engaging their phones while their kids/dates/loved ones sat by and looked around or the kids/dates/loved ones were also engaged on their own phones? I think it's a bizarre and more frequent phenomenon.
I also recently watched this video on Facebook that a friend posted about children of the 50s through the 80s and how we "miraculously" survived our childhoods even though we didn't wear helmets when we rode bikes and how we weren't fat even though we consumed loads of Kool-Aid because we were outside playing instead of sitting in front of a tablet or TV.
It also made me think about how we've been duped into thinking we're giving our kids healthy dinner options when we get "fruit" with that Happy Meal. I know a lot of women who hate to cook--we don't have to all love it--but I wonder how their kids are eating? It seems like a necessary evil to raise a healthy family--or you have to marry a man who loves it AND has the time.
I have been spending a lot of time lately wondering if I'm spending my time with my kids in the most productive way that I can. I spend a lot of time instructing--violin lessons and piano, as well as being their homework checker and spelling word/dictation administrator each morning. Not to mention the regulator of cleanliness and chores. Doing all of this for four children often leaves me drained and wanting to have time where I honestly just veg out or I seek out a few solitary minutes on the computer looking at Pinterest or Facebook to find some brief entertainment. Yet, growing up I never had anything like that to turn to for entertainment. I read A LOT of books because I was an only child and there were no other kids who even lived by me. I was constantly in an adult world. I think it was a huge reason behind wanting to have more children because I knew the solitary loneliness of being an only child.
Because I am spending so much time instructing it causes me to not want to engage in fun things with the kids. I feel tired. I want a break. Yet, I know those fun memories are so important. I need to help them develop their talents, but I want their childhoods to be filled with fun memories too which often come when I break from the pattern of established lessons and chores. It's such a tricky balance. Maybe all of this is part of why I have really loved celebrating holidays and birthdays for the kids. I try to keep the activities simple, but the kids really get a kick out of them. Green milk? That's crazy! Caramel apples? YUM! A piece of chocolate every day in December? Yipee!
I think the real truth of all of it is, my kids want me. I don't mean that in an egotistical way. I think every kid wants his own parents. You, me, the parents on the street--we are what our kids want. YOU are your kids' safety, their normal. I think my kids find comfort in our routine and because we have a routine, I think when we vary from it to do simple, fun things, they really value that time. The trick is, when we do vary from it--be present. Don't use a break from the routine in a wasteful way--let's go to dinner so I can be on my phone, but assuage my guilt by saying I'm doing something sweet for you. Let's go to the park, so I can spend the entire time checking email while you disappear.
All of these thoughts are not meant to judge anyone else. These are ideas that I've been turning around in my own head for a long time now. I certainly don't have it all figured out. I'm still struggling to make it all work and feel like each child is getting loved in the way he/she needs it. But I certainly can't improve if I don't examine myself.

1 comment:

rachel said...

You are so eloquent. I love that you can just articulate things so well in your writing.I think it's because of your young literary adventures, reading and "grown-up" conversations. There was a gift given to you, a strength. I have all of these sentiments with my kids. Every. single. one. Except I stink at routines and other stuff including cooking. I am definitely leaning more on non nutrients and dyes of different variations.I digress. I have friends that are completely opposite. So, I feel like it's rubbing off on me. I feel like they are specifically placed next to me to teach me to be better. I believe that about our children too. They will get what they need to get from you because you are so awesome;)Then there is the really hard question I have to ask myself. What am I supposed to be learning from them? Am I getting the things from them that are helping me progress to the state that I need to be in? Do I get the qualities I should pick up from them? Colby sees such a corrupt and awful view of the family at work and he is constantly lamenting that just being here is enough. It's a tough balance but I admire you for trying to be so precise!