It’s hard not to go to a restaurant today and see adults and kids sitting around a table, each with a smart phone at the ready. They steal glances at email posts, and respond instantly to the scores of texts that their friends send daily. Some teens are so expert that they can talk, walk, text, and eat at the same time!
When my kids were little, we didn’t have smart phones or tablets. I was a big newspaper reader however. I would sit in my easy chair after dinner reading one of my papers. My youngest daughter would march over to me and knock the newspaper out of my hands and yell—“I want attention!” I had to admit, she made a good point. She wanted my undivided attention.
Perri Klass, M.D. in a recent article in the New York Times (Parents, Wired to Distraction, March 11, 2014) reported on a study published in the journal Pediatrics about the impact of electronic distractions in family life.
Their findings are not surprising. Families that ban smart electronics at dinner and during family time demonstrate more parental engagement with their children. Kids complain that it is hard to get their parents attention. It makes them sad and mad when their parents are busy texting, swiping, and reading emails.
Children also feel that it is hypocritical when parents limit their screen time, but seem to be glued to their adult screens. Teens are particularly sensitive to this double standard. What’s good for the geese should be good for the gander.
We all know that these new electronic devices are seductive. It’s so easy to glance at work email that automatically shows up on your smart phone. The sound of an arriving text can be like the Siren’s call. “I just want to see who it is!” says Dad. But before you know it, he’s texting back a response to a friend. Mom seems to be addicted to Facebook—“I just love looking at the pictures my friends post” she says in her defense.
Instant communication is inviting. But, digital communication is not the real stuff of relationships.
Undivided attention is the fuel of love and affection. Children love it when you get down on the floor and play a game with them. Kids still like it when parents read them a story before bedtime. And guess what? Your partner appreciates undivided attention too! There is nothing more annoying than having a talk with your husband or wife and watch them steal glances at their tablet!
So what should we do?
I’m with our very own Wendy Sue Swanson M.D. in her Mama Doc blog (Smartphones at Dinner: A Wake-Up Call March 11, 2014) make dinner and family time digital free zones. Just make a rule—no cell phones, tablets, or video games at family meals. Be strict about this. Kids will nickel and dime you to death—“just one text, just one more level, I just want to respond to that email!” Hold the line! And most importantly, be a good role model.
Electronic communication is not going away. In fact, the smartest whiz kids of this generation are inventing new, exciting, and intriguing devices that will Wow you! They are writing new Apps that are going to entice you, seduce you, amaze you, and intrigue you. I’m just waiting for an App that will mop the kitchen floor, make dinner, and then fold the laundry (don’t forget about robotics!).
But don’t let go of old fashioned, tried and true, real live looking into her eyes and listening and responding to your daughter, your husband, or your son. You won’t be disappointed with their reaction.
How do you handle electronic distractions in your house?