Be a Parent, Put Down the Phone
Kids report feeling 'sad' and 'lonely'
You love your children more than life itself. You would do anything for them — except, maybe, put down your cell phone.
Psychologists and mental health experts are increasingly worried about the negative effects on children’s mental health of extended parental cell phone use. With the ever-increasing number of apps and social-media platforms available today, children are often sidelined while their parents finish posting, uploading, or simply “checking in.”
ConsumerWatch, a regular segment on San Francisco Bay’s CBS affiliate, conducted an informal playground survey last year on how kids feel when their mom and dad are on the phone.
“Sad,” was one 4-year-old’s recorded reply.
Is this growing inattentiveness entirely our fault? Maybe not. The most successful new apps tap into a reward mechanism in the brain, and also target the part of the brain that releases dopamine — a feel-good chemical.
“A child can feel resentful, invalidated, and consistently rejected — and come to view the parent as not a true source of support.”
“Sometimes I promise myself I won’t check Facebook for a day, but I end up checking it anyway,” said one Boston mom. “I feel let down with myself when I do that.”
In a survey by online international security company AVG/Location Labs, the findings are ominous — more than a third of children questioned said they feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their cell phone, and more than half— 54 percent— feel their parents check their phones too often.
Says Boston child psychologist Janna Koretz, “A parent on a device for extended periods of time is very similar to a parent who is absent for long periods due to work — but it’s even more frustrating, as the child can see the parent right in front of them. A child can feel resentful, invalidated, and consistently rejected — and come to view the parent as not a true source of support for them.”
An adult’s response to a child asking for help or attention while they are on their mobile devices may be unintentionally harsher than intended, causing more feelings of rejection, psychologists warn.
“It’s a very harmful message when a parent or caregiver is laughing at something online, but is angry with the real child in front of them for interrupting,” Koretz said. ” The results of this behavior can be very destructive long-term.”
Catherine Steiner Adair, a clinical psychologist and Harvard researcher, notes another troubling finding.
“We’ve seen about a 22-percent spike in preventable accidents with young children and caregivers using their digital devices,” she told CBS San Francisco.
So should we ditch our cell phones and mobile devices forever? Not necessarily. Instead, set limits on your own behaviors when it comes to cell phone use, psychologists advise. Have regular times when there is no cell phone activity at all — be truly present at the playground or the special dinner out. And always put the needs of little ones first.
Remember — childhood is fleeting. Don’t phone it in.