Being There For Your Family Starts Here

It’s a familiar scene. You’re out at a café at lunch and you see a child and what looks to be their parent sitting at a two-person table. The parent is scrolling through their phone endlessly, picking at their meal, making zero eye-contact with their kid, and the child is playing a mindless game on an iPad or tablet barely touching their food.

I feel disheartened when I see a parent and child “spending time” with one another in this way while both are on electronic devices, having absolutely no contact. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of social media and communication in this day and age; being a small business owner I can attest to how important an online presence is. But there is another type of presence that is far more vital to one’s well-being—the presence with our loved ones in the moment.

It’s common knowledge that serious neglect of children can lead to deleterious outcomes in the child’s life; the effects are seemingly endless such as withdrawal, anxiety, depression, aggression, problems sleeping, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm, suicidality, and the list goes on. Concern has also been voiced about the effects that video game addiction have on children. However, little attention is paid to the impending negative effects that more subtle child neglect through excessive parental electronic use will have on the next generation.

Children need to feel important, loved, and cared about to build confidence. They learn from their parents' behaviors how to feel about themselves. If a parent takes an interest in what their child says, this sends the message to the child that he/she is interesting, and that what he/she has to say is valid. But when a child feels as though a cell phone is more important to their parent than they are, then they receive an entirely different message. One that we wouldn’t want them to get.

In order to learn and develop to their fullest potential, they need to be modeled language, social skills and values directly from their caregivers. They need to be talked to, asked questions, shown appropriate ways to socially engage with others and many other vital life-skills that are taught by example. Children learn by seeing a doing—if they see their parent looking at the cell phone all the time, they quickly learn that life is all about staying busy and being distracted.

True happiness comes from living in the moment and experiencing what is in front of you in real time. Just as poor habits are modeled to children from their parents, so are positive habits. In order to show children how to live in the moment, parents must be willing to live in the moment with their children. And for this to happen, parents need to understand that at the end of the day, it’s much more important to spend your lunch hour with the person in your life who matters most, and let a few emails go unanswered until tomorrow.

4/15/2015 7:00:00 AM
Natalie Moore, M.A., MFT Intern
Natalie is a holistic psychotherapist in private practice in Pasadena, Ca. She integrates mindfulness into her work to assist clients in finding balance in their lives. Trained at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Natalie has taken a whole-person, humanistic approach to treatment from the beginning of her career...
View Full Profile Website: http://www.awakentheself.com/

Comments
I think this also works in the opposite direction with adult children and their parents. I find at times my children spend more time looking at their electronic devices when I visit than talking and sharing what they are doing in their life with me.
Posted by Janice
Great article!

With all the talk about diets, the most effective diet I've taken is a digital diet.

We're teaching our kids to disengage - and it's so frightening to think of the skills they aren't developing.

Show your friends, family and co-workers by example that you are prepared to be fully engaged with them, and turn off all the alarm bells every day to be fully present.
Posted by Karl Lawrence
Thank you for writing about this topic. I find myself guilty of much of the above. Recently I've started tracking the exact amount of time my child spends on the ipad. It was shocking to see but I've been able to cut it about in half over the past month. We've replaced with evening hikes! Now how to get the phones away from my wife and I...
Posted by efork
Even if you don't have children, I think we all need to 'unplug' and be more involved with our loved ones. I know personally I've got to get better about this.
Posted by Rachel
I am SO glad to see a professional writing about this topic. This is one of my biggest pet peeves and concerns for everyone, but especially for our children. I have an 8 year and a 5 year old and my wife and I are always very conscious of not appearing distracted by anything when we are spending time with them. For ALL the reasons you stated in this article and also because we know that everything we do communicates something to them. If we do that with them they will do that with others, which leads to a generation of children who have little social skills and find it acceptable to have their faces in an electronic device, to ignore a person they are with because their phone made a noise and they want to look at it, etc.

Being in the moment with ANYONE you are with shouldn't be so hard, but it has become just that. And it certainly is not acceptable with our children. It makes them feel unimportant, like they are a bother to us.

It might be hard to put that electronic device down, but it's so important to do just that. In many ways life was simpler and better for everyone before the technologies of the last 20 years.
Posted by Bryan Moore
I am plugged in ALL day during work. Skype, Slack, iMessage... its how our corp communicates. I've come to associate the drudgery of work issues with these apps and devices and tend to hesitate to pick them during off hours. As a result I push the same mentality down to the kids... they whine a bit but they know I don't like them plugged in when we are sharing time.
Posted by Keith Garcia
Hits home. The other day my wife and I were doing something with the kids (3 year old and 1 years old) in the kitchen. Eldest asked for something, but one of us was in the phone zone, until she repeated herself while adding: "... and stop looking at your phone."

Kids know you're ignoring them. So, be conscious about your phone use around them, and put it down or in another room.
Posted by Matt Beckman
I see it all the time and not just between parents and children but between just about everyone. Engagement is a thing of the past. Technology that shrinks the world creates huge gaps across a table.
Posted by Rob Greenstein
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