Kids are upset their parents are spending too much time on technology. Yes – those same kids who are themselves involved in upwards of 8 hours of media per day.
The news comes from top behavioral experts at the annual conference of the Family Online Safety Institute. I was there in search of advice for reining in screen time now that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children and teenagers should spend no more than two hours a day on digital media.
But it didn’t take long to realize those darned kids aren’t necessarily the trouble. To borrow a phrase from Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.
The point was hammered home by Catherine Steiner-Adair, a noted clinical psychologist who interviewed hundreds of kids between the ages of 11 and 18. They told her the same thing over and over: my parents are too distracted.
“It feels like all you [adults] care about is your phone,” one child told her. Another confided: “My mom is always on the iPad at dinner. She’s always ‘just checking.’ I really wish she would just talk.”
Too many kids are “mad, sad and lonely.” They’re confused about how to catch their parents’ eyes and ears in what Steiner-Adair calls “the mini-moments of childhood.” Unable to do that, she finds, “Kids give up on their parents and tech becomes the de facto go-to parent.” Details of this “relationship fatigue” are in her new book,The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.
Even though kids likely will find solace and companionship on social media and elsewhere in the digital environment, they still need guidance from caring adults. “Relationship is hugely important,” declared Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. In Patchin’s estimation, the benefit is clear: “If there is a valued person in my life, I am less likely to misbehave.”
But how can parents better manage their own digital impulses and concentrate more on their kids? “You can’t control their media use if you’re not using it in ways that are mindful and focused,” says Michael Rich, a Harvard Medical School pediatrics professor otherwise known as the “Mediatrician.” Rich advises that if parents want to be the change they want to see in their children, they need to “turn it off and focus on each other.”
A parent’s need to pay attention is a main tenet of the Durable Human philosophy. This is based partly on Stephen Covey’s definitions of efficiency. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey says that for machines, to be “efficient” is to work as fast as possible. But for parents, being “efficient” is to slow down and listen.
The Mediatrician agrees: “Get away from your devices. What you’re doing on them is not so important that it can’t wait. When you’re parenting, just be there 100 percent.”
Yet, Rich isn’t a fan of the AAP’s two-hour rule, which he told The Durable Human can lead to “the forbidden fruit syndrome”:
To be durable for a lifetime, kids need a varied life. That means spending time not only with technology, but also learning to relate to other people and the natural world around them. I spell it out in The Durable Human Manifesto: being diverse in thought and action makes life interesting and is the source of ongoing human innovation.
Plus, as the Mediatrician reminds parents, providing a diverse experience is the whole point – so your child grows up “a richer, fuller person.”
The Walt Kelly Pogo artwork pictured above is found on igopogo.com.