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.