By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW
I was recently sitting in the waiting room of a pediatric doctor’s practice with my children. The room was filled with children, adolescents and teens accompanied by their parents. I took a moment to look around and realized that it was oddly quiet; none of the parents were speaking with their children. They weren’t reading or playing with their children; they simply weren’t communicating with their children. Instead, the children were playing on their own, while their parents were quietly focused on their mobile electronic devices.
Is there something wrong with this picture? If parents are giving up on the chance to speak with their children in the doctor’s office, are they doing this at home as well? Are parents missing out on some important opportunities? Is this alarming? I could not help but wonder if this was a snapshot into the lives of many families.
With the advancement of technology, children have had increased exposure to screen time, including television, computers, video games, and phones. What’s happening is that parents are using electronic devices as babysitters. Parents have children watch videos and play games on their parents’ phones to entertain and distract them. Are we using electronics as a pacifier to calm our children, control them, or even shut them up? It is far easier to shove a video in front of your child than to deal with whining, crying, screaming or even the public embarrassment of a tantrum. Are we choosing these methods because as parents we do not want to deal with our children in their difficult moments?
There’s another concern as many children have come to expect ongoing entertainment. As a result, they aren’t using their imaginations for play and creativity. It also will become challenging for them to develop skills such as patience with others. Imagination and patience are like muscles, they need to be used and exercised or they become weak.
We’ve let ourselves and our children slip into a reliance on electronic devices. What can parents do to reclaim some of the closeness and communication that are being lost? Here are some tips:
- Foster your children’s creativity by giving them old-fashioned toys like blocks, legos, puzzles and toy kitchens. Get on the floor with your children, play with them.
- Parents of older children and teens can help their children strengthen these skills by playing board games with them. Board games teach tools like team work, taking turns and dealing with losing. These are skills that every person needs in every stage of life.
- Children can reap great benefits from participating in everyday activities with their parents, such as going to the supermarket together. This simple activity can teach children skills such as patience, caring for the family, and greeting other people, as well as practical skills like counting, recognizing colors and shapes, and curiosity about where our food comes from. Going on errands with a parent provides bonding opportunities.
There is no way to deny the fact that mobile electronic devices are a part of our world. Let’s try to find healthy and balanced ways to incorporate electronics into our lives.
- Create boundaries for your use of your mobile devices. Consider limiting their use when you are with your children.
- Use your mobile electronic device as a tool for education and communication with your child. Put interactive educational games on it that you and your child can do together, or put books on it so that you can read to them. Reading is the greatest skill you can provide for your child. It is a calming, soothing activity that increases vocabulary and intelligence.
Talk to your children, listen to them, play with them. You will be amazed at what this can do for your children’s development and your relationship with them.
By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW, JCS Therapy Services
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