6 Tips to Prevent Cell Phone Abuse With Our Kids

A story by Riley Rose, age 6...

Once upon a time there was a family and they all had phones even the baby. But one day the mailman plopped a chest of gold and you only have it for one day. But the parents were too busy to put things in their wallet. The next day the mailman took the chest. The next day they packed for vacation but they forgot the phone. They went on vacation and had shakes and chocolates and everything. But when they got back they pressed a phone button and got a burn across the hand because they hadn't used it in a long time and they never used the phone all day again.
~ I made this book cause my parents always use their phones. THE END.

Much has been written about restricting children's screen time to insure their safety and wellbeing. Little has been said about the child's perspective of unavailable and distant parents, victims of their own screen dependencies.

The unavailability of a parent on the phone is nothing new. What is new is the availability of our phones, our new favorite toys. We have a new culture of parents accustomed to having the world accessible in their pockets. Parents talk or text while pushing a stroller, driving a car, supervising playtime, etc., with no thought to the effect of their behavior.

Unintentionally the message to the child is I'm unavailable. Is it any wonder children are demanding attention with louder and more dramatic behaviors?

The developmental stage of egocentrism in the first 6 years of life, together with an immature prefrontal cortex not able to analyze incoming data, means the young child takes it like it is. She doesn't understand that Dad is learning new information or connecting with a friend. She is more likely to feel that she is unimportant.

No teaching tool is more powerful than modeling. It has been wisely said that we need to be the people we want our children to become. Children learn from what we do far more than from what we say.

In her story, Riley sees precious opportunities her parents are missing (the pot of gold). Precious time with her. Her unplugged family vacation was as blissful as chocolates and shakes. Hopeful for the future, she writes that her parents, burned by their phones, learn their lessons, and never use them again.

Parents must take responsibility for the messages sent to children when tech devices appear more important. If they seem so valuable, where do we expect the child's focus to land? Earlier and earlier children are demanding their own cell phones, iPads, and iPods. 31% of 8 to 10-year-olds have cell phones. Earlier and earlier children are getting hooked into the unemotional, non-interactive world of cyberspace where anything goes.

It is our job as parents to own and take responsibility for our actions and emotions, our modeling, and never blame them on our children. "Stop bothering me while I'm on the phone" sends the unintended message that you are not important to me. Frustration over an interruption while texting says you are a bother.

6 Tips for Healthy Parent On-Screen Use

To take control of your modeling, a few simple tips can be the answer:

1. Put devices away in the presence of your child.
2. If you must use a phone, keep it on vibrate and check messages later.
3. Choose times of the day for use when your child is napping, in school, playing with friends or you are out.
4. When out with your child, leave your cell phone at home.
5. If you are on a cell phone around your child, make sure to use a headset.
6. When you must be on your phone or computer, respond with understanding to your child's anger and frustration.

Most children are not able to directly say, Mom, I don't like it when you are on your phone and not paying attention to me. However, their behavior will tell you if you know how to interpret it. Validate her cues with, I bet you don't like it when I'm on my phone. It must seem like I'm not even here. Keep communication open now and always so it doesn't breakdown when it is most necessary later on.

All it takes is awareness of what you look like to your child on a cell phone or iPad to set standards for yourself that will serve both you and your child.

8/16/2018 7:00:00 AM
Bonnie Harris
Written by Bonnie Harris
Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed. is the director of Connective Parenting. Bonnie has designed and taught parenting workshops and counseled parents for twenty years. She received her masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York City.
View Full Profile Website: http://www.bonnieharris.com/

It's just another way to prove to are children that they are the center of the universe and nothing matters more than them. What a bunch of crap! Should parents be on their phone all the time? No! Should children be able to interupt whenever they want? No! Balance is the key to life and teaching your child that they don't need to be the center of the universe all the time is good for them!
Posted by Heather B.
I agree with the whole article except the part where you tell or encourage your child to feel a certain way for example, you said " I bet you don't like it when I'm on my phone" I have never agreed with stuff like that. Alot of times kids say what they think you want to here. I like to ask them certain questions to see if they even understand some of the words they use without telling them how to feel. But other than that great article. All of our family vacations and event do not include cell phones and it's so much more relaxing!
Posted by Aaron Heitzman
Great article, thank you! There are some great tips that I will try. As the parent of a 4 year old I find myself, at times, too "distracted" by the digital world. Time for me to be more aware and understanding.
Posted by Eric
I can certainly relate. I think it also goes both ways being a parent, as I like my children to be present and not engrossed in their digital device too. I've got a lot of room for improvement. Thank you for the article.
Posted by John Valenty
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