This psychologist is worried. It seems that everywhere I go a sizable number of the parents are ignoring their kids.
At the grocery store: Mom is pushing one child in the cart. Two others are hanging onto the sides — when they’re not running up and down the aisles.
Where’s Mom? In an animated discussion on the phone.
At a local playground: Kids playing are pleading with Mom to look at them. Their mom barely looks up. She’s on the phone.
At the mall food court: I see far too many tables where kids are eating fries and their folks are on the phone. At a high school football game. Yup. A dad misses his kid’s big play. Why? He’s on his phone.
Not everyone is guilty of putting their phone ahead of their kids, of course. And sometimes, I’m sure, the parents on the phone are dealing with an emergency or monitoring kids left at home. But it’s happening enough that it has me concerned.
Below are five reasons to put those phones away:
- Providing positive attention when kids are doing positive things builds a strong value system and positive self-esteem. Responding with enthusiasm to their attempts to master new things ensures that the kids will keep trying. The “look at me’s” you hear on the playground and in your kitchen are your kids asking for your approval and encouragement. When you do look, really look, and smile and wave, the kids soak it up. They try again. They push themselves to the next level.
- Giving kids positive attention also puts a big deposit in their emotional bank. When kids know that their folks think they have what it takes to handle life’s problems, they develop confidence in their ability to take on life’s challenges. When parents put their phones down (or turn off the TV or shut down their computer) and talk to them seriously about what they are doing, their skills grow and their self-confidence blossoms. Later, when those same kids hit the inevitable troubles of life, they will have what it takes to cope.
- Babies light up when bigger people make eye contact and talk directly to them. They are taking in the rhythm and sounds of our voices. They are learning the words for the things and people of their world. They are learning how those words get strung together. Television doesn’t help children learn language. It’s too passive. They need to experience the give and take that comes with interacting with another warm, caring human being. Parking them in front of even the best children’s TV is no substitute for the give and take that goes on between even babies and their parents. Many parents are amazed when their little one suddenly moves from saying one and two words at a time to a full sentence. “Where did that come from?” they ask. It came from listening to adults who talked to them, not around them because they’re on the phone.
- Conversation builds brain power. Little kids’ brains are sponges. The more we talk to them, the more their brains absorb. Even children who are far too young to carry on a real conversation are taking in far more than adults may realize. Parents who talk to their kids with complicated sentences are setting them up for success in school and in life. One and two word answers don’t do it. Commands don’t do it. A momentary break in your phone conversation to acknowledge them doesn’t do it either. Kids need to hear language used to describe and explain their world. That’s one of the many good reasons to read to children. It’s not just for the entertainment of the stories. It’s also an important way for them to hear and take in the richness of language.
- Our kids need our first priority to be our relationships with them, not with our phones. Children learn how to be with other people and how to love by being with people who love them, teach them, encourage and comfort them. Contrary to conventional wisdom, quality time is not a substitute for regular moments of interest, talk, and participation in their lives. Yes, quality time has a certain special quality. We all remember big celebrations, vacations, or trips to the zoo. But those days are special because they are rare. For kids to grow, they need us to be curious about their experiences and to comment on what is going on around us in an ongoing way. I love my phone as much as the next person. I love that it helps me stay regularly connected with my extended family. I find it reassuring that my kids can always reach me. I stay in touch with far-flung friends, former students, and family members through Facebook and tweets. I check the weather, glance at headlines and Google information.There’s no way I want to go back to the old days with a party line on the one phone in the house. But kids need us to remember that when we are with them, we need to put our phones away (and confiscate theirs). Providing kids with direct attention and interested conversation is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.