Is Using Your Phone Around Your Kids Really That Bad?
All parents know that young children thrive on attention and learn best when their caregiver is focused on their needs. But, all parents also have household obligations and friends and families with whom they want to stay in touch. Many also have work responsibilities and need to answer an email from their boss or take a call from a client even when technically off-duty. Other parents find they need to take small mental-health breaks to check in on Facebook or with their favorite blog.
There is no shame in not being 100% focused on your child at all times. We have yet to find a parent who is. But, parents may be interested in a study showing the actual impact of even small interruptions on young children.
A new study shows that constant interruptions in time spent with children, even if the interruption is as short as 30 seconds, can have an impact on toddlers' learning and development of social skills. The study showed that when toddlers saw their parent shift their attention away from them by changing their eye contact, body language, and emotion even for under a minute, toddlers completely reset their attention and learned less during the total interaction time with their parent.
Does this mean parents should ditch their cellphones completely when with their toddler? No way. Not only is this not practical, it's not even necessary. Although even small interruptions in interactions with your children are not ideal, the good news is that you can get your child's attention back, although you may need to work a little harder to get it than you did before the interruption.
Another piece of good news is that the negative impact from interruptions is magnified when they are constant. This means that parents do not need to feel guilty about occasional interruptions to check their phone, even a few times a day, as long as the interruptions are not constant. More good news is that after age three children are better at coping with small interruptions, so as your toddler grows into a preschooler the impacts of small interruptions are less.
Nevertheless, the threat of constant interruptions is real since parents have their phones with them just about everywhere. What steps can parents take to help ensure that their cell phone use doesn't have a long-term impact on their kids?
- Designate certain times as phone-free times. Some parents have a rule banning phone during mealtime or setting aside some time for playtime where the phone is shut-off.
- Remove distracting apps from your phone. Do you find you constantly check Facecbook? Take it off your phone and only check when you are at your computer.
- Have set times when you check your phone. Need to keep up on emails? Choose a set time (such as every hour on the hour) to check your emails. Or, set two times a day when you respond to emails and stick to it. Naptime or right after bedtime are great times to dedicate to being online.
- Leave your phone in the bottom of your bag. You may not be able to leave your phone at home when you leave the house, but if you make it hard to get to you may be less likely to grab it mindlessly out of habit.
- When home, consider leaving your phone out of sight by leaving it in a drawer or a cabinet. It will be there when you need it, but you won't be tempted to check it as often if it's not in your pocket or next to you while you are playing with your child.
- Wait until your child is playing by himself before reaching for your phone. Most kids will play by themselves for at least a little while. Wait for an opportunity to check your phone when you are less likely to interrupt time you would otherwise spend focusing on your child.
There is no need to feel guilty for wanting to stay in touch, but it's good to be mindful of how these interruptions can impact your child and how they can be minimized. Do you have any tips for staying away from your phone?