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Children’s new rival sibling: Parents’ digital devices

Every age of parenthood — and parenthood at every age — yields some discouraging metric, some new rating system on which parents can be judged and found wanting. We endlessly jury family dinner rituals, day care and nannies, parents’ readiness to follow schedules, or...

Parents glued to mobile devices are sending a wrong message to their children

Living in a technology-saturated time, most of us have grown, mostly by force of habit, to become much closer to our mobile devices than our family.
An increasingly worrying phenomenon is that parents constantly check and use mobile phones more than they pay attention to their children.
When the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued screen time guidelines to limit the amount of time young children stare at screens, my first thought was: what about the parents?
When we complain about screen-obsessed children, we should also be equally concerned about tuned-out parents. In this day and age, we are seeing less direct engagement between parents and children and even when there is any interaction, it is usually sporadic and of low quality.
But it does not necessarily mean that parents do not love their offspring. It’s just that they have become less emotionally attuned, because they are distracted whenever they have a smart device in their clutches.
With this in mind, we should not underestimate the problem of an adult’s own attachment to smart devices and the direct risks it can pose to children’s upbringing.
Electronic devices are the ultimate deal-breaker in family relationships. Therefore, we should treat these WHO guidelines less as a warning regarding the risks of excessive screen time per se, and more as a powerful reminder of the advantages to be had if we spend time doing (pretty much) anything else away from the screen.
We all know that electronic devices have become excessively pervasive in our daily life. No one is immune to this electronic invasion.
Sadly, when children complain about their parents being glued to their e-devices, very often they are doing so because they want to use the gadgets themselves, and vice versa.
In light of the WHO recommendations, parents should grasp the opportunity to wean themselves off their own e-addiction along with their children and learn to be more responsive to their needs.
As distracted parenting is widespread, many children seem to have accepted this lack of attention and adapted by being equally distracted with their own mobile devices, causing many parent-child relation problems.
When we make no time and space for our children and constantly ignore their existence, it does not bode well, nor does it contribute to nurturing a deep and meaningful relationship.
Of course, it is unrealistic to expect parents to be 100 per cent focused on their offspring, but being able to spend a healthy amount of time with the young ones can help them learn to manage their emotions as well as those of others.
And besides fostering a close parent-child relationship, it can also build self-confidence to help with problem-solving and strengthen their bonds with peers.
The point to take to heart from the WHO guidelines is that spending too much time in the e-universe prevents us and our families from building genuine interpersonal connections with one another.
It is not necessary to provide attention to our children 24/7 but when we do have real face-to-face time with them, we must make it count and ensure that we are completely present to share a real-life conversation.
The WHO recommendations are broadly about promoting healthy habits and physical activity for children to optimise their critical development.
They include suggesting those between two and five years of age spend no more than an hour a day in front of a screen, while children under two should not be allowed any sedentary screen time at all.
It all comes down to how we should raise our children in this digital environment. We are reminded of the importance of adjusting and correcting attitudes when interacting with each other, and being made aware of the detrimental as well as beneficial aspects of screen time.
We cannot be totally detached from the tech-savvy way of life, but we can certainly be more conscious of the existence of the real world and make appropriate changes to strike a reasonable balance between on and off-screen life.
The WHO recommendations are effectively telling us that spending time on our screens is not toxic, but there is a danger of building an unhealthy reliance which can ultimately be detrimental.
We need to give our children and ourselves a wide range of real human experiences for us to grow. Parents should set an example by putting their mobile devices away as often as possible.
It’s not rocket science; time spent on devices is time not spent actively exploring the real world.
It’s your choice, and you must live with the outcome of whatever choice you pursue. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST


Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the South China Morning Post

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