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Plugged-in parents tuning out to kids

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I saw an increasingly common sight in a supermarket recently. A mother with a toddler was pushing a shopping trolley with a toddler while speaking on a mobile phone.

Her son was trying to get her attention. “Mum! Mum!” he repeatedly yelled. Getting no reaction he started throwing the contents of the shopping trolley onto the floor.

That was one way to get his mother’s attention!

There’s been a lot written lately about the impact on communication technology on children and young people, particularly around the area of mobile phones, instant text messaging and cyber-safety.

But parents’ use of such technology — and its effect on their offspring — is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.

The concerns revolve the invasive nature of communication technology and its ability to distract parents from their kids.
It’s not just in public places that technology takes parents away from children, laptops and other electronic devices are constantly turned on in many modern households.

There is little research on how parents’ constant use of such technology affects children, but there is little doubt that one-on-one communication where parents talk and explain things to children, and respond to their questions is the basis of effective parenting, particularly in the early years.

One five year US study found that children experienced feelings of hurt, jealousy and competitiveness when their parents paid attention to their devices rather than them. The kids were particularly indignant when  parents were talking on mobiles during mealtimes, after school pickups and sports events.

Children  need to learn that they can’t have their parents’ attention all the time. There is a time for interacting with mum and dad, and there are times when parents need their own space and time.

Getting this balance right has always been a parenting challenge, but it appears that communication technology is something new that parents and kids’ have to contend with.

Working out how to integrate technology is a modern family issue, one that both parents and kids need to get their heads around.  It’s worth remembering that parents model all sorts of behaviours for kids, including how children use mobile phones, instant messaging and the Internet.

Here are some suggestions if you communication technology constantly competes for your parenting attention:

Know who you are focusing on:  
Children grow up quickly so you have them their attention for such a short-time so smart parents make the most of their children’s early years.  To do this you need to minimize outside distractions including mobile phones. Consider leaving phones behind, or turning them off when you are playing, reading or doing things specifically with your kids.

Put boundaries in place:  Technology maybe available 24 hours a day but you and your kids don’t have to be tuned in all the time. Don’t bring mobiles to the dinner table, turn off computers well before bedtime and have text-free or twitter-free times. One mum, a self-confessed ‘social media and text message addict’ put a ban on her own internet and mobile phone use between 4.00 to 8.30pm. Her children cheered when they found out.

Communicate your intentions: Give your kids a heads-up when you are with them and expecting a call from work or a friend. Let them know when an interruption is likely, but that you will return to them once you’ve answered the call.

Stick to time limits:  “One more text message”, “Just 5 more minutes…. Sound familiar. These types of comments are as likely to come from parents as kids these days.  If you can identify with these comments then set some times limits, and stick to them.

Research into children’s language development shows that children develop a wider vocabulary when their parents talk directly to them in the early years. They also transfer affection as well.  When parents talk with kids there is an implicit message that ‘I like you and I value you.’

This message gets blurred when communication technology gets in the way.


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