Adults, don’t blame teenagers for your bad phone habits

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 9:01am
Stephanie Carmichael, Contributor

Teenagers these days. They can’t go one minute without their cell phone. But apparently, neither can adults.

A new study shows that one in three parents are using their cell phones almost nonstop during meal time at restaurants, and it’s probably safe to say this kind of behavior goes on at home, too. So we’re not exactly setting model examples for our kids, who are either acting out from neglect or accepting that phone time at the table means they have to entertain themselves.

The latter doesn’t sound as negative, but I’m skeptical. Adults who stare at their phones and ignore what’s going on around them are just as bad as teenagers who text and drive, play on their cell phones at movie theaters, or use them as excuses not to talk to the people sitting around them. Some of those cases are more extreme than others, but it’s still damaging to others and weakens social skills. That’s not a lesson we should be passing on to our kids, who learn from everything we do and say.

The researchers who conducted the study want to better understand how this mobile use affects childhood development and interactions between parent and child, but I’m guessing not in a good way.

Some adults in the study were able to control their addiction better than others, but 73 percent of them took out their cell phones during meals. None of the families knew they were being observed at the time. Some only put them on the table or checked them briefly once in a while. The guiltiest adults didn’t glance up from their mobile device to talk to or check on their kids at all. That’s different from people who spoke on their phones and were able to simultaneously monitor what their children were up to. As it happens, the kids were pretty curious about what their parents were doing, too.

I’m not surprised that this is happening. I see parents out in public all the time who are too absorbed in reading a text message to pay attention to their kid. (This is the same thing they do when walking their pets, by the way.) This is out on the street. Their kid could wander away, and I doubt they’d notice. (There’s actually a whole website devoted to phone-obsessed parents.) Because of this kind of behavior, I have a rule that when I have children of my own, phone indulgence will be off-limits. In fact, I may get rid of text messaging altogether.

It’s the same reason why I don’t approve of parents buying cell phones for their 8-year-olds or buddying up so that everyone in the family has one and texts each other frequently. These aren’t the “cool” social habits we should be encouraging in our children.

Of course, you don’t have to take such drastic action like giving up your phone altogether. Occasionally showing a photo or video on your device to your child can help enforce more positive feelings and interaction. I follow someone on Twitter who actually posts a lot of video and pictures of his kid to Vine, so it can be good to expose your children to technology at an early age and teach them about what it can do. Plus, you’re recording the moments in your child’s life. That’s a double-win.

Cell phones aren’t evil technology; they’re not inherently bad. But we should probably give kids a chance to experience the world free of them first so they can learn how to survive without them. Sometimes, we forget that we once did.



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