Parenting in the Digital Age

In 2011, 35% of American adults owned a smart phone. Currently, over 77% of Americans adults own a smart phone. Eighty-one percent have their phones on all the time – even at night.

A study done by Nokia revealed that we check our phone and/or other electronic devices 150 times each day or about every 6 minutes – usually looking at it within 5 minutes of waking up. Might we call this an obsession?

How is our obsession with electronics affecting our children?

While conducting research for her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18, asking them about their parent’s phone habits. Some of the answers she received give us a glimpse into what our children are thinking. Some said they were "sad, mad, angry and lonely." One 4-year-old called their parents smartphone a "stupid phone." One girl said, "I feel like I'm just boring. I'm boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, anytime — even on the ski lift!" Others joyfully told about when they threw their parent's phone into the toilet, put it in the oven, or hid it.

“I feel like I’m just boring.”

Children need their parents to be present not only physically, but also mentally.

Children need eye contact. If parents are “just checking” their phone or other mobile device while the child is telling them a story, showing them a picture they drew, or asking a question, the child is not getting eye contact – the phone is.

This lack of responsiveness and attention from parents is setting the stage for problems later in life such as depression, emotional struggles, and even addiction.

Children need to know that they are more important than a phone. By limiting time spent on their mobile device, engaging with their child, and quickly and warmly responding to their child, parents can help their child feel secure and loved.