By Joan Grayson Cohen, LCSW-C
I was on my way to work and decided to stop by the Dunkin Donuts that I often frequent to get an ice-coffee and a muffin. As I was driving out of the drive-through lane I glanced to my left and I see what has now become an early morning ritual for many.
On a lovely outdoor table under the beautiful sunny sky there was a mom and her school age son having breakfast together. But, were they really together? Could they very well have been at different tables with other people and have had the same breakfast experience? I noticed that Mom was on her phone saying nothing to her son and her son wouldn’t have heard anything anyway. He had on his “Beats” head phones and was not even looking at Mom. They exchanged no words as they ate their breakfasts on that beautiful morning.
So could this have been a one-time occurrence or is it a life style? Just as I was looking for a sign that parents and their children really do interact I had these two experiences:
- I visited my daughter in NY and we went into a Starbucks ( I know you are thinking so trendy) at an after-school hour. A mom comes in with her adorable school age daughters while she is walking and looking at her phone. She barely acknowledges them as they wait at the counter and then still while looking at her phone she tells them to order. They get their food, sit at the table next to us and no more words were exchanged for their duration in the coffee shop.
- I walked past a Parenting Center where parents bring their infants and toddlers to play. There was a Dad sitting on the window sill engrossed in his phone and not once interacted with his child who was on the floor exploring.
So I ask, how will our children learn how to communicate, how will they learn relationship skills? Will it come from our role-modeling? If so, I am worried.
Communication by definition begins with an exchange. If we stop exchanging with our children we will lose the ability to share our thoughts with them, find out what is going on in their lives and teach them effective relationship building. Many of us instinctively learned the art of communication from our early interactions with our parents. These skills we later adapt to other relationships in our lives. I am worried that we are not providing those same messages about positive communication when we as a society are so attached to our phones.
I am wondering if it is it time for us to look at this issue and challenge ourselves to develop parent phone etiquette. What could it look like? Here are a few thoughts.
- No phones at meals
- Set up hours when phones can be used
- Anticipate need to use the phone and try to do that prior to our time with our children
- If a call has to be taken, excuse yourself from your children for a moment if possible and make the call duration as short as possible
- Communicate with your children what are appropriate times and usage for phones
- Try to have no phone days for the whole family if possible
- Try to break our own dependence on phones so that we don’t role model the phone attachment for our children
Everyone’s life styles are different and needs to have our phones available differ as well. Maybe your list would look different than my suggestions but developing some list may be the key to fostering a shift from phone attachment to family engagement.
Joan Grayson Cohen, Esq., LCSW-C, Senior Manager of JCS Access Services
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