Parenting advice I shared on the NBC DATELINE special “The Perils of Parenting” and wow was it ever an eyeopener!
“She’s always on her blackberry. It’s soooo annoying!”
“I hate it when he’s talking on his cell. It makes me feel sad.”
“I put an timer on the computer. When it goes off, it’s time to play with me.”
Sound familiar? After all, we do seem be complaining a lot these days about our kids’ online behavior these day. Except these complaints were issued by children! Yep, the kids.
Those were actual statements uttered by a group of four to seven year olds all fed up that their parents were always chatting, texting, or clicking away. And the kids sure had their reasons:
Each chat, text, or click, they said, meant less time for “Mom and me.”
Each chat, text, or click also made the kids feel like they didn’t matter to their parents. “She likes her Blackberry more than me.”
NBC correspondent, Kate Snow interviewed the children as part of a Dateline special entitled, “The Perils of Parenting.” I was the parenting expert in another room with the parents who watched and listened to their kids’ comments. Hidden cameras and a crew captured everything on tape. (That special aired Monday, Sept. 13).
If you’re surprised on how the kids responded, imagine their parents’ reactions. “Shocked,” “Sad,” “Guilty,” were their most frequently voiced terms.
“I had no idea it bothered my child so much,” parents told me again and again.
Though parents may be amazed with their kids’ responses, most child experts are not.
For five years Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been analyzing how parental technology use affects kids. Her research found widespread feelings of kid hurt, jealousy, and competition-almost the exact comments the children shared on Dateline.
But the real hidden danger is that each minute we connect electronically means less face-to-face time with our kids.
Though there is no guarantee, fifty years of solid research shows that the best way to reduce risky behaviors and raise emotionally healthy kids is the strength the parent-child relationship.
So what do you think your kids would say about your behavior? Don’t be so sure they wouldn’t express similar concerns.
Tips to help us unplug and engage more with our kids
Here are things you can do to make sure a plugged-in lifestyle doesn’t disengage you from your family.
Check your online records to get a reality check
While you may have important business obligations, make sure you’re not plugged in too much to risk crucial family interactions.
There is no rewind or retrieval button when it comes to parenting.
Do an honest assessment on your typical daily online habits.
Start by identifying specific daily times you designate for family interactions (such as your dinner hour or when your child is open to chat).
Next, check your cell phone, text, and tweet logs during those times, and add up the minutes.
How are you doing? The key, of course, is to find the balance that works for your family, and then stick to it.
Ask the kids
Have a courageous conversation as a family. Ask flat out: “Am I too plugged in?” (And be prepared for their honest answer). Also ask questions such as: “How will you let me know you want my attention? How can we start unplugging and connecting more?” And then empower the kiddos: “What do you suggestions do you have so we’re less unplugged?” (After all, this is the Net Generation. We might as well use their expertise. Research says the typical eight to seventeen year old is plugged in 7 and a half hours a day!)
Use voice mail and alarm features
While there are clear advantages to social networking, don’t let the ease of an online connection steal precious minutes from your family interactions. Identify those key “family moment times.” Then turn on your cell’s voice mail features. Set the alarm on your computer that alerts you as to your online length. Set features to “plug you out” at designated times.
Create “sacred unplugged times”
Kids say that family meals, school activities, sporting events, and after school (pick up and welcoming connectors) are when they’re most bothered by their parents’ networking behaviors. Identify your own family’s “sacred times,” announce them to your family, post them, and then preserve them.
Tune into silent signals
Kids usually don’t give flat-out requests asking us to put down our Blackberries or close those laptops, but their behavior can indicate silent wishes. Each child has a unique way of letting you know they wish you’d plug into them more, so identify your child’s signals, tune in and then plug in.
Attention getters: Acting out, ansty, clowning
Proximity: Moves in closer to you; grabs or pulls on you
Sulking: Pouting or turning inward
Annoying: Grabs your blackberry, throws something, unplugs you.
Hint: When we asked kids how do you know your parent is listening to you? The answer was always: “She looks at me eye to eye.” “He puts down what he’s doing?” “He tunes into me and not his dumb iPhone.”
Don’t text and drive!
If you caught the Dateline special you would have seen one very frightening segment: teens who were texting, driving and crashing–again and again. The real kicker was when teens were asked the million-dollar question: “Where did you get the idea it was okay to text and drive?” Their answer: “My parents do it all the time!” Research also verifies what teens say. We are texting and driving more than our kids, and it is sending them a potentially deadly message that it’s okay to do so. So do not text and drive. Show your teens how you turn off your cell and put it in your glove compartment the minute you get into your car–just as you expect them to do. If you absolutely must answer your cell, pull over to the side of the road and then—and only then–answer. Your kids say they are watching–and they don’t like what they see! Do you blame them?
Don’t get me wrong. There are clear advantages to Blackberries, computers, Facebook, twitter, and social networking including the biggest one: being able to spend more time with our families.
Let’s just make sure that we plug into our kids more than our Blackberries. Push the pause button every once in a while and check your online behavior. Remember, there is no rewind button when it comes to regaining family life.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
[i] J. Scelfo, “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In,” The New York Times, June 9, 2010.