By Jocelynn Buckentin, Technology Innovation Specialist
I had a hard truth delivered to me this week, and it came at the hands of a pint-sized human at the ripe age of 6 years old. This child, with her wide-eyed innocence, told me that her dad liked playing video games more than he liked playing with her, and that it made her sad. This statement, as jarring as it may seem, is not uncommon for me to hear when I talk with students about media balance. While her statement was not directed at me, it immediately drove my thoughts inward to self-reflection. What would my own daughter say to her teachers about my device use at home? I have certainly been guilty of scrolling mindlessly through my smartphone, but does it interfere with my ability to connect with my kid?
The answer to this question may alarm you. Many studies have been conducted around the concept of distracted parenting, and they all confirm that the “continuous partial attention” we give our children when we divide time between a device and their care is harmful. Child Psychologist Linda Stone explains, “It interferes with a child’s language development by interrupting emotional cues, which is the basis of most human learning.”
Similarly, Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek clarifies that “language is the single best predictor of school achievement, and the key to strong language skills are those back-and-forth fluent conversations between children and adults.” Think of it like the back and forth volley during a tennis match. Each side is actively engaged, attempting to anticipate the others’ next move, and ready to react accordingly. With each interruption, such as a quick check-in on social media or response to a text message, we interrupt that volley and miss cues that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Part of my job as a technology integration specialist is to help students to navigate the digital world, and that includes a healthy discussion on the importance of media balance. The harsh reality is that time spent on devices is time NOT spent actively exploring the world and relating to other human beings. While occasional partial attention is not catastrophic, we would do well by our children to avoid chronic distractedness when it comes to our own device use. Trust me when I tell you that they are watching you, and modeling what they see. After conversations with colleagues in preparation for writing this article, they echo this sentiment wholeheartedly. Students can be brutally honest about what they see and hear at home, and are quick to share stories of distracted parents with their teachers and classmates.
Do we want our children to go through life dividing their attention between mindless scrolling and the real world, or do we want to teach them how to effectively strike a balance that will encourage mental, physical, and emotional well-being?
The best way to teach our students this important lesson is to model it ourselves. Be mindful of your phone and/or technology use by enabling trackers like “screen time” to show you just how much time you are spending on your device each day. Have a conversation with your child about staying “present” during family time, such as having a device-free dinner. Ask yourself, “Can this wait until later?” when pulling out your device in the presence of your child. And finally, recognize that this process is not easy, and give yourself credit for trying to make this important change.