Enough fretting about how kids use their devices. What about parents?
Much attention is given to children's and adolescents' excessive use of screens these days, and how it is distracting them from real-life experiences and causing emotional strife. Less scrutiny, however, is aimed at parents and how their phone use habits affect kids. This is an oversight, since parents are the main role models in a child's life, and the way in which they interact with their own phones sets an example and standard for children.
A great article on KQED's Mind Shift discusses research by paediatrician Jenny Radesky, who works at the University of Michigan and is considered a top researcher in the field of parents, children, and new media. Radesky outlines several rules for parents to model better screen time behavior for their kids. These rules are sensible and easily applicable, although breaking the twitchy phone habit is easier said than done. Radesky suggests the following:
1. Put your phone away when you're with your kids.
Minimize the amount of time children see you with a phone in your hand. This includes looking at the phone, even if the child does not see it, i.e. holding it under the table. While a parent should not be expected to be constantly attentive to a child, it's rude to look at a device when anyone is trying to talk to you. Looking at a phone can also result in injury or even death if a parent is driving or a child is swimming.
Radesky's research has found that parents look at their phones an average of 70 times per day, but usually underestimate that number when asked. This is likely true for all adults; we're not even aware of the extent of the addiction.
What's the solution? Put it away during busy mornings and evenings with kids. Turn off notifications or turn it to silent. Develop offline habits and hobbies that demonstrate to your child that a phone need not be entertainment.
2. Don't use a phone to pacify your child.
It's common practice these days to whip out a phone to distract and entertain a misbehaving child, but Radesky points out what an unhealthy feedback loop this becomes:
"The more kids act out, the more stressed parents get. The more stressed parents get, the more they turn to screens as a distraction — for themselves and for their kids. But, the more parents turn to screens, for themselves or their kids, the more their kids tend to act out."
Screens also prevent a parent from figuring out what's causing the child's misbehavior and robs them of an opportunity to prevent similar meltdowns in the future.
What's the solution? Talk to them. Ask what's wrong. Equip yourself with old-fashioned physical distractions like snacks, books, drinks, and toys, if needed. Discipline as needed, e.g. a screaming child should be removed from a restaurant until he or she is ready to behave, not rewarded with a screen.
3. No posting photos without a child's permission
There is far too much over-sharing going on by parents online, who are now estimated to post 1,500 images of a child by age 5. It is important to remember that a child may not want his or her images all over the Internet, and that certain images can compromise his or her future, if they've been posted carelessly. Parents, despite raising their offspring, still do not have the right to post private details about their lives.
What's the solution? If a child is old enough, parents should ask if it's OK to post and allow the child to view and respond comments together. This is a valuable lesson for later in life, too:
"It's a great way of role-modeling respectful behavior and good judgment on social media. Kids need these training wheels to understand how to interact online."
Parents can opt not to reveal any identifying details in a photo and can limit the number posted to special occasions only. In most extreme cases, parents can choose not to post at all, respecting the child's right to control that once they're old enough.
You can read the full list of suggestions here.