Parenting in the Digital Age
Life in the digital era requires intentional efforts from parents to put devices to the side
We often talk about how much screen time is appropriate for children, but what about parents? Modern technology can make life more convenient in many ways. We live with instant access to information and contact with others. Having a device that is always on changes how and when we receive input. Gone are the days of setting aside time to sift through mail or listen to the answering machine and, instead of dedicating times for these tasks, many people are compelled to keep up with data as it comes in.
Research published in an article titled, “The Dangers of Distracted Parenting,” which appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of The Atlantic, suggests that mobile devices are more distracting than people think, and that distracted parenting impacts the development of language, social and emotional skills in children. Life in the digital era, therefore, requires more intentional efforts from parents to put data to the side and focus on their relationships and interactions with their children. Here are a few key times of the day that are ideally device-free and interaction-rich.
Morning Routines and Drop-Off
Children benefit from connected support from their parents when they are preparing for their day. You can help your child prepare for his or her school day by thinking and talking together about what he or she expects or hopes for. Children are not always comfortable bringing up these topics on their own. And if the morning is especially rushed, or if you are less available, many thoughts and worries are simply kept quiet. If the morning routine before leaving the house does not lend itself to such leisurely conversations, the car ride or walk to school can serve as the perfect time for emotionally supportive talks.
The morning commute can become a precious time of connection that will help your child feel understood and supported before saying goodbye for the day. Simple conversations starters could be, “Who do you hope to play with today?” or, “Is there something you’d like to do in school today?” Starting such conversations can lead to other school-related topics that may be on your child’s mind.
Reunions After School
The reunion after school, whether right after school or after a parent has finished his or her workday, is an especially important time of day for young children. In fact, the first few minutes with you after school may be one of the most significant moments of your child’s day. For you, it may be just another busy afternoon. But for your child, it’s the first time he or she is seeing you after a school day that was likely filled with ups and downs, triumphs and challenges, and interesting or perplexing experiences. Put your phone away for these few minutes and give your child your full attention.
Questions such as, “What was your favorite part of your school day?” and “What was the hardest part about your day?” will provide your child opportunities to seek your understanding or share important parts of his or her day with you.
If you’re not the person dropping off or picking up your child from school, the first contact you have with your child is still an important period of time. You can also carve out other special times of day for these valuable conversations. Dinnertime, evening time or bedtime can serve the same function of giving your child your undivided attention, free from the distractions of mobile devices.
If you are aware of your child experiencing specific worries, talk about them. Children, like adults, think about the things that worry them, even when they do not initiate these conversations on their own. By setting aside specific times of the day to talk with your child in a focused and connected way, you’ll learn more about his or her feelings about different experiences, enabling you to provide more attuned, meaningful and lasting support.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.