Smartphones, Tablets, and Parenting

In our last blog post, we examined how children as young as three years old are engaging in relational aggression. This was once thought to be the behavior of “mean girls” in high school, so where are preschool-aged children picking it up? Experts are still not entirely sure, but it looks like young children could be learning the basics of excluding others from their parents’ cell phone and tablet addiction.

There was a time when you had to be home to make and receive phone calls, when you had to be home to connect to the Internet, and when very few people had a basic cell phone. Everybody has cell phones now and they carry them wherever they go. Of course now, these are much more than just phones; smartphones allow users to text each other, access the Internet, stream videos, and do almost anything that a computer can do. It’s all very convenient, but it comes with a huge downside, especially if you’re a parent.

Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices have become tools for avoidance when we’re out in public. While there’s nothing wrong with checking your email on your iPhone or iPad, there is something very wrong with being more connected to your phone and social media than to your own child. We may see parents with their children, but not really with them. The mom burping her three-month-old baby while updating her Facebook and the dad sending out emails while standing next to his toddler riding the carousel are not really with their child. Sadly, the sight of children tugging on their parents’ clothes to draw their attention away from their screens is becoming more common. Parents are distracted by their techy screens and kids don’t like it. Children should not be the ones getting “no signal,” “low battery,” and “undelivered” alerts.

Young children crave attention. Not only do they want attention, they need attention. Parents are the most important people in their lives and it’s hard to build real family relationships when parents are constantly on their phones. Ignoring a child to send a tweet or post a picture can have long-term effects on child development. They need a substantial amount of guidance and supervision, and they simply are not getting it anymore.

As difficult as it may be, parents need to start disconnecting from their devices and start giving children the attention they deserve. Children learn many valuable life skills from their parents. Unfortunately, it often seems like they’re learning how to ignore people in favor of a shiny new gadget. If you recall, relational aggression is the deliberate exclusion of someone from an activity or social group. Considering that younger children are frequently ignored by their parents in favor of their mobile devices, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that children as young as three-years-old are engaging in relational aggression.

Giving kids their own smartphones or tablets in the name of fair play doesn’t help matters. It’s just encouraging children to disconnect from the world around them. Eventually, you start to notice how family time has turned into people being immersed in their own world of technology. While some of us worry about radiation and the price of this month’s cell phone bill, we should be more worried about disconnectedness, lack of social skills, and the lack of a developing mind.

As a parent, we need to be there for our children, but we can’t do that if we’re glued to our new iPhone or iPad.

Inspired by the May 17th, 2012 Times article by Dominique Browning, “Why Cell Phones Are Bad for Parenting”.

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