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Parents and “Smart” Phones  

There is a lot of talk these days about teenagers and how they are glued to their cell phones, would rather communicate electronically than face to face, and are losing real human contact to virtual contact.  It seems they have good models – their parents.

A small study published last month in the Journal of Pediatrics observed parents eating meals with their children (all children were younger, under ten years) while they were eating at fast food restaurants.  Almost three quarters of the parents used their phones at least once during the meal and a full third were on their phones for the whole of the meal.

As you might imagine, the impact on their interaction with their children was not good. Those parents who spent more time on their phones tended to have more negative interaction with their children overall.  They were more likely to correct them or raise their voices. The researchers also noticed an interesting pattern of behavior in children whose parents were preoccupied. They tended to increase the intensity of their behavior, apparently to get their parent’s attention. This probably added to the negative interaction patterns overall.

Families having a regular meal together is sometimes referred to as a super habit; something that tends to have benefits on children’s functioning over a wide range of behaviors. While that habit has been studied more at home than in fast food restaurants, I wonder how much parents are paying attention to their phones over dinner at home.  It certainly breaks down the communication and connection with children.  And it teaches children that disengagement is appropriate. 

Parents.  Think about your use of electronic devices, the impact it is having on your relationship with your children, and the model you are setting for your kids.