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Part 1: How are we Causing Technology Addiction in our Children?

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

The common scenario:

I watch happily as my young daughter walks to her bookshelf, and picks out one of her favorite books. Now laying on the floor, she opens to the most exciting page. She begins to “read” aloud, mimicking how mommy reads her favorite story.

My heart melts.

This is exactly what I want, my daughter to fall in love with reading. (I mentally pat myself on the back).

Meanwhile, the other part of my brain is beginning to drift: “I wonder if anyone replied to that work email yet?” I better just check real quick…

And that’s where it happens, the disconnect.

My daughter looks up proudly to check if mommy is watching her “read”. Unfortunately she looks up at the exact moment I pick up my phone.

The book is quickly left behind on the floor, and she is walking towards me. “Phone?” she asks. “Elmo?” (her personal code for, I want to watch a YouTube video.)

Heartbreak. The proud moment of seeing my daughter choose to read out of joy, has just quickly faded. The even more heartbreaking thought is that it is due to my own disability to fully disconnect. Now she is on a new track, to get on the phone just like mommy.

Shall we add some insult to injury? There was no new email, no new message. Nothing.

Technology seems to make parenting in this age wonderful and terrible, in near equal measure. How often do we look down on the parent who is staring at their phone at the restaurant table, seemingly disengaged from their child? Or, shake our heads at the parent at the park who is in a deep conversation while their child is yelling “LOOK daddy!” in a desperate cry for their parent’s full attention?

And how often is that each one of us? Whether we like to admit it or not, studies show we are all guilty of this to some varying degree.

We know how impressionable kids are. Since the day they arrived in our lives they have been watching us, learning every life skill from our example. They study and mimic every move we make. The hard thing is that they mimic it all, the good and the bad. Our heart melts when we see them speak out our loving words, and cringe a bit when we see them copy an action that we are not too proud of. Sometimes we even discover some of our own bad habits, thanks to their mimicking.

We can’t expect our children to be perfect, because we are not perfect. We are their models, we are how they learn. So, we cannot assume being glued to our technology, will not affect them. As with everything else in their growth, they display the actions they see.

What does recent research show?

Plain and simple: Your child notices, and they are affected.

It’s easy to see how a deepening divide is coming between our children and ourselves. A recent Common Sense Media poll on technology addiction showed us that “half of teens and over one-quarter of parents feel they're addicted to their mobile devices”. [1] The thing is, it seems as though everyone is starting to realize this issue, but everyone is also putting off the solution for their own convenience and personal satisfaction. Those who were polled even admitted “at least a few times a week, more than three-quarters of parents and 41 percent of teens feel the other gets distracted by a device and doesn't pay attention when they're trying to talk.” [1]

Again. They notice.

Perhaps we lie to ourselves and say that our kids don’t mind our diverted attention, because our children are also absorbed in their own devices. But they do notice, and with all other things in life, our kids learn from watching our actions. When we model addictive technology behavior, when we let our phones distract and interrupt their conversation, why should we be so surprised or even offended when they do the same?

A recent study shows that those between the ages of 8 and 28 spend about 44.5 hours each week in front of digital screens. [2] They are spending the hours of an average work week in front of a screen. It sounds scary, yet it also seems just about right. For teens and young adults, it’s safe to assume the hours are possibly far above those found in this research.

Dr. Cruger at the Child Mind Institute asks “why would you pick up a book if you’re stimulated by Instagram or Candy Crush?” He notes that our phones are capturing the novel and stimulating activities that our brains are hardwired to enjoy. [3] We can safely say that almost everyone who is digitally connected these days is struggling with superficial engagement. We sometimes choose not to go deeper, because we have so much surface level information at our fingertips. However, if we want our children to dig deeper and think critically, we must be the first example they see of this behavior.

Psychology Today highlighted this divide that technology is creating in our families. [4]

"One study found that when the working parent arrived home after work, his or her children were so immersed in technology that the parent was greeted only 30 percent of the time and was totally ignored 50 percent of the time.” [4]

Our true connections, face to face and with one another, are both changing and fading. Due to everyone being absorbed in their devices, even being physically present with each other sometimes produces superficial engagements. There are profound ramifications that result due to this distancing.

Psychology Today examines the consequences that come from these new divides. [4]

We can all feel this shift, this divide that technology is causing in our lives. So what is our hand in it, as parents? What is the cost of our media consumption, and how can we start dealing with it? It’s a challenging, yet crucial issue to face and it starts with us, the parents.

Continue reading in this series to learn some practical steps to deal with this growing divide in our families.

Article contributed by: Jade Rhoden

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