Kerry Stutzman from Head and Heart Parents gives us some advice on how we can get off our cell phones and spend time with the kids.
How parents who spend too much time on devices end up having more badly behaved kids
We hear so much concern about the time kids spend on devices. And yet, in a survey of 1700 parents of kids ages 8-18, the average parent spends 9 hours/day on their screens. And, surprisingly, more than 80% of that is for pleasure. And even more surprisingly, 78% of those parents consider themselves to be good models of screen use. Parents of teens spend as much time on their screens as teenagers and parents of ‘tweens spend 3 hours more per day than their kids.
So how does this impact family life and our kids’ behavior?
We humans are wired to crave connection. Human connection tends to be communicated with eye contact, interest and time. If kids aren’t getting it a positive way, they figure out how to get it in whatever way it takes. There’s a study done where parents are playing and talking with their young children and then are told to freeze their faces in a still, expressionless way. It’s fascinating to watch the babies’ and toddlers’ responses: they start by smiling and trying to engage their parents sweetly. When that doesn’t work, the babies shriek and cry. One toddler boy threw a toy at his mom. A toddler girl kicked her mom. These kids protested when their parents stopped engaging with them. I don’t think that age really matters in this dynamic. Kids protest when they are ignored. Teens and partners get grumpy. And then, eventually, they stop asking for the connection.
Perhaps we parents are trading short-term gain for long-term pain.
In the short-term, looking at social media and playing on our phones is easier than the daily grind of parenting which requires patience, listening, disciplining, etc. But parents surveyed say one of their biggest concerns about kids’ use of screens is the impact on face-to-face communication. And that is precisely what we rob our kids of when we ourselves are distracted by our phones or TVs. It can cut down on the closeness and connection that comes simply by listening to and looking at our kids. It breaks my heart every time I sit at a coffee shop and watch a parent stare at his/her phone while the young child sits there with no one paying attention. That child is missing the opportunity to feel seen and heard and to learn conversation skills.
Research shows that parents show less empathy while they are on their devices. If we parents are engaged with whatever is on our screen, it’s harder to be empathetic and really hear what our kids are telling us. Sometimes kids go on and on. Parents on screens tend to be less patient with that. And yet, empathy is one of the keys to positive parent-child interaction and is the foundation of good behavior.
- Remember that in their social lives, a huge amount of contact for ‘tweens and teens is through electronics. That puts even more responsibility on us as parents to teach our kids how to have face to face communication. To do this, we have to turn off our screens and turn towards our kids. My #1 tip would be for all of us parents to put down our phones and give our kids eye contact.
- Have device-free dinners. The #1 predictor of kids’ success in everything from behavior to academics to vocabulary to health all tie back to having family dinners where there is enjoyable conversation.
When it comes to screen time, parents are poor role models for their kids.
How much time do parents spend on their screens?
Still Face Experiment:
Research on the importance of family dinners: