Apr 1, 2014

Dr. Cindy Gellner: Cell phones have become increasingly important and often a demanding part of life today. How do they get in the way of parent-child interactions though? That's today on The Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

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Dr. Cindy Gellner: So you're probably guilty of this. You'll sit at fast food restaurants or just having meal time out with your family or even at home, and you've got your cellphone there. And it goes, "You have a new message." Or whatever your notification beep is, and you feel the urge. I have to check it; I have to check it. Stop.
There's a new study out that came out just literally last week, and it talks about how parents' use of cellphones at meal times is actually hurting children. So how is this, you might ask?
Well, the researchers who did this in Boston and who published the study in the Journal of Pediatrics visited fast food restaurants, observed the caregivers, and how they were with, at least, one child and saw how much time they'd go on their mobile phone. And what were they doing on their mobile phone, and how did they interact with the children?
Probably about 80% of these adults used their mobile phones during the meal. Now the biggest influence on the interactions between the caregiver and the child appeared to be how absorbed in the cellphone that the caregiver appear to be.
Are they answering a call real quick from work or from a spouse that says, "Hey, I'm running late." Are they just checking an important email and making a quick response and putting the phone back down? Or are they playing a game, or are they on Facebook? What exactly are they doing?
And the other thing was how frequently they picked up the phone. Did they pick it up? Put it down? Pick it up? Put it down? Or they pick it up? Put it down? Or leave it down because sometimes things are emergencies, and you need to use your cell phone for something. But think about it. We all survived before cellphones even existed, and we can do it again.
So what about the kids while the parents are on the phone? How do the kids respond when the parents are on the phone? Also how did the parents respond when the child was trying to get their attention? Again, it all depended on how absorbed the adults were on their phone as to how they responded to the children. Quite often the parents who were on their cellphones a lot, from what the researchers saw, they weren't exactly on their best behavior.
And the highly absorbed adults, when they were on the phone so much and their children were misbehaving, they often responded harshly. Not in nice voices, but like "Get over here," things like that. It's really important that you put the phone down so that you can pay attention to your child's behavior. So one, your child knows how to behave in a public restaurant and two, when they do misbehave, you can get them reined in a lot faster and a lot nicer.
The one thing that researchers noticed too is the people weren't only talking on the phone, the most absorbed users were actually swiping or typing on their phone with their eyes never on the children, just on the phone. The study didn't draw any conclusions about the effects of this use, but it was very important to note how the children and the adults interacted.
This is important because absorbed parents not paying attention to their children, it actually has a really big effect on how the kids behaved. And not only that, it also has a big effect on how kids perceive their worth is to the parents. If the parents are so absorbed in their cellphones, the kids feel like, "Why am I even here? Why should I even try to be good? Mom and dad don't care, they're on their phones."
Kids who are not paid attention to a lot tend to have a lot of problems. The kids who do get the attention from their parents, the kids who do eat meals with their parents at home or out and don't have a phone involved, they do better in school. They're less like to drink, smoke, do drugs, having family meals together often led to less depression because the kids have great self-worth. They felt positive about their family interactions, and the families were closer.
So keep all of this in mind next time you're sitting at the table and that little notification goes off. Best thing to do, put it away. Turn it on vibrate if you have to so that you don't hear it, and it can wait. Interact with your kids because they really need you there to let them know that you care about them, and it will be a great benefit to them in the future if you do.

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