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Parents are inundated with information about the negative effects of the digital age on their children. Some might say that children growing up in the digital age are more likely to develop behavioural problems, limited social skills and academic lags, amongst others. However, in adopting a positive parenting approach to Internet and mobile technologies there is much to consider. How much time television, tablet or cellphone screen time their kids should have? What age should kids get cell phones? What mobile games are age appropriate? Shifting through all of this information to make parenting decisions can be overwhelming. But if one thing is for sure, most parents feel that screen-time for their kids should be limited. Yet, what most parents don’t know is that they might need to start limiting their own screen-time first before making screen-time rules for their child.
Like many other parents out there, you might feel that the necessity of being connected far outweighs the need to put some restrictions on it. After all, your job might depend on it. However, it’s only when you realise that it may steal your attention away from you child that you begin to understand the pitfalls of an always-connected lifestyle.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Catherine Steiner-Adair, children notice when they are being ignored when a parent is using a mobile device. This leads to children feeling disconnected from their parents. Of course there are times when pulling out your cellphone, Kindle or tablet in front of your child is necessary, but playing Candy Crush, scrolling through Facebook or flipping through your Instagram photograph gallery while you are around your daughter or son sends the message that you are more interested in your digital device than them.
In her recent book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age , Dr Steiner-Adair talks about how when parents focus on their digital world first there can be deep emotional consequences for their child. “We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them," says Dr Steiner-Adair.
In considering how we engage with digital communication technology, it is important to remember that balance is crucial. Mobile devices are here to stay and children and parents alike need to learn to create and sustain communication and relationships with and without devices. As a parent, your job is to make the decisions about how much value you place on your device and consequently how much value you want your children to place on their family and personal relationships.
At ParentsCorner we recognise that we live in a mobile connected world but recommend that parents create device-free times and zones at home. Mealtimes, bedtimes and play times are all important times to be present with your children. These are good times to put your mobile device down and leave it to charge while you give your full attention to your children. There is no need to be extreme about the restricting screen-time on mobile device use in your home. Aim to create a balance that encourages face-to-face interaction, verbal communication and genuine relationship building with your child while educating them into the uses of mobile technology. But one cannot realistically expect a child to respect unplugged boundaries unless a parent sets the example. Parents need to take the first step in limiting their own screen-time before making rules about the use of mobile devices at home.