Technology and Parenting

Technology isn't going away, but childhood is. This post is a friendly reminder to put away your phone and be present with your children. 

By Alma Villarreal, Parent Educator | Mar 28, 2017
Technology Parenting

This post is part of our “I’m Stumped: Our Answers to Your Common Parenting Dilemmas” series. For all of the posts in this series, click here.

Technology is great! It’s made life so much easier, right?  You can ask Siri and Google just about anything.  It helps us stay connected with friends and family around the world, and it constantly entertains us.  It’s changed the way we shop, and bank and it has replaced cameras and, sadly, even books.  It’s also made our work life a lot easier – with the ability to read and answer emails, make conference calls and stay connected around the clock.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is this: Yes, technology is awesome!  And we all enjoy talking on the phone, facetime, social media and watching YouTube videos.  However, as parents it can also rob us of precious time with our kids – being in the moment – being present.  Technology is not going anywhere; it’s only going to get bigger.  But, if you think about it, what is going away is our kids’ childhood.  It will pass us by with the blink of an eye. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. 

Being mindful of all of this can be a good start to making changes in order to be present, truly present.

Here’s a few suggestions:

1. When you are with your kids, be with them. 

Checking and replying to an email at your son’s baseball game can cause you to miss out on his homerun. And then that moment is gone. This is true for any other great moment and milestone. It can be easily missed while you’re busy posting about your day, or uploading the pictures you just took. 

2. Make family rules and follow them

Rules such as “no electronics at the dinner table” or “no electronics in bed” are very important. It’s important to have family time where you’re actually looking face to face instead of staring at screens. If you set the rule, you also have to follow the rule.

As a side note, teens can make very bad choices after hours, so I encourage you to make a rule about appropriate times to put away their cell phone at night, or have a central charging station in your bedroom.

Remember that all rules have to have reasonable consequences. For example, if a child chose not to put up her phone until 9:30 pm instead of 9:00 pm, she will now lose 30 minutes of cell phone use the next day.

3. Be transparent

If you really must take a phone call or tend to an important email or business matter while you are spending time with your kids, it’s a good idea to say out loud, “Listen, I have to take this important call from my bank, but we will continue reading this book once I’m done”. 

4.  Be respectful to your kids on social media. 

Be mindful of the pictures you are posting of them that are personal or private. Many times we can create anxiety and lose their trust when we do this.  I’ve heard kids as young as 4 years old say things like, “Mommy, please don’t post this picture!”  Think about it – you’d be mortified if your parents had the ability to do this to you!

5. Lead by example. 

Remember that children are constantly learning from observing you! Parents often get annoyed with their kids because the kids are spending too much time with their electronics (video games, ipads and cell phones), yet many parents can’t seem to put their own phone down around their kids.

6. Don’t lose the ability to have a conversation. 

This means talking not texting.  As easy, convenient and nice as it is to send a text – and even a group text to your family, “Dinner starts in 15 minutes!” – we are also losing the opportunity to talk and connect with them.  Let your kids know that it’s important for them to answer the phone when you call them, and not reply with a text. 

I know we all have the best of intentions with our kids, and we never mean to prioritize our phones over our kids, but we’ve all let it happen from time to time. The important thing is to be aware of how often we’re looking at a screen and how well we’re connecting with our children in their presence. Connecting with kids can be so simple that it might not seem like much. But here are a few easy ways that parents can build that person-to-person connection.

Make eye contact. Get down to your child’s level. Use your body language to let her know that you are present and that she has your full attention.

Use touch. A simple rub of the shoulder, running your finger through her hair, holding her hand or giving her a hug lets her know that you’re with her.

Learn to listen. Really, truly listen. Not just nod in agreement while also thinking about all of the work emails you have to respond to. This takes practice! But by being intentional about it and really focusing your efforts on truly listening to your child, you can send a powerful message that you care about her enough to hear what she has to say to you.

Even on the busiest of days, try to make it a priority to spend at least three minutes a day playing with your kids. Three minutes really doesn’t sound like much, but it’s so important to do this.  It helps improve the parent child relationship, builds trust, confidence and helps with brain development. 

Think of age appropriate activities, keeping in mind that interest will vary depending on your child and your lifestyle.  Try reading, art (painting, coloring, making bracelets), board games, playing dress up or painting your child’s nails (this is a good one as you are touching, looking at her eyes, and it provides opportunities to talk), playing sports as a family, spending time outdoors, have a picnic at the park. Even if it’s a quick sandwich, fruit snack or a box of pizza, the important thing is that you are connecting and spending time with your kids. 

If for just three minutes a day, you put your phone away, look in your child’s eyes and have a conversation with him, you will be sending powerful messages that he matters. Of course, the more time you can spend, and the more often you can turn away from your electronics the better! Technology is great – and it’s made our lives so much easier – but nothing can replace the human connection between a parent and child.