I get questions all the time from parents about how to balance the best parts of life in front of a screen and time attending to our kids. We love what our screens do for us. They give us directions to where we are going, they answer questions we have any time, day or night, and they provide a way for us to stay in touch with friends and family in the most fun and often intimate ways.
Yet what I keep hearing from kids is that they sometimes have a very difficult time getting their parents’ attention. One pre-teen girl said that she thinks her father thinks she’s boring because every time she tries to talk to him, he picks up his smart phone.
Kids learn through attachment. They learn about the world through relationships and relating. When we connect with them directly, by gazing into their eyes or delighting in what they have to say, our brains are actually affected.
Dr. Dan Siegel says that during those times “mirror neurons” fire, meaning that we have brain activity that connects us to each other and we can actually feel the connection as if being “mirrored.” If we are connecting through a screen or one of us is on a screen, we don’t have that same kind of connection.
Here are some tips for achieving a more balanced approach to technology in our lives and making personal connections with your family:
1. Be intentional. Pay attention to your own cell phone use and learn to “step away from your smart phone” from time to time. You are an important role model and not only can you give yourself opportunities to have face to face interactions with your child, but you will be showing your child that putting the phone away and relating in a direct way is the right thing to do.
2. Have conversations with your kids about smart phone use—yours and theirs. Are they feeling rejected or left out because you are on the phone all the time? Are you bothered by their texting during dinner? Figure out what works for your family and make the changes you need to make so everyone feels better.
3. Don’t be afraid to set limits. You wouldn’t let your child eat a whole bag of chocolate chip cookies. It’s ok to limit the amount of time she spends in front of a screen. There’s a big difference relating to someone through a screen and having a face to face conversation. It’s important to know how to comfortably do both.