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Your Kids Hate It When You Do This

Photograph by Twenty20

This morning I almost missed an important work call, all because I’m so tired of the dealing with the intrusion of technology that my current strategy involves leaving my phone on silent at all times.

I’ve become that friend who misses text messages, that person who schedules “email time,” and that writer who lives in a bubble. Years ago, when I got my first iPhone, I considered it a gift. Finally, I could stay connected and work on the go. These days, it feels like a weight on my shoulders. It’s always there and it always wants something from me.

So I silenced it.

As it turns out, many families struggle with the constant intrusion of technology. A recent study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics shows that parents’ use of mobile technology around children causes internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with their kids. It’s a small study, and more work needs to be done, but the response from participants is interesting.

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For instance, as reported in a press release from Science Daily, participants in the study consistently reported struggling with multitasking, shifting between work and parenting, and emotional tension around the disruption of family routines such as meals.

Some parents also reported experiencing a trickle-down effect of the stress they experience when reading bad news (either from work or world events) in that the stress they experienced while engaged with mobile technology impacted the way they interacted with their kids.

On the bright side, however, many parents reported that advances in technology enables them to work from home and remain connected to friends and family.

“Everything in moderation” is a phrase that gets tossed around when concerns about too much technology rise to the surface. The problem, of course, is that it's difficult to walk away from the constant input of technology in your pocket. Some study participants even admitted that technology provides an escape from the “boredom” of parenting.

We can’t deny that technology interferes with family life, and parents’ excessive use of mobile technology in the home can—and does—negatively impact parent-child relationships. Week after week, young children sit in my office and tell me they wish their parents would put their phones down. What feels like an “escape” to a parent feels like rejection to a child. More than one child has looked me in the eyes and said that their parents like their phones better than them.

It’s time to hit the reset button on technology use and finally set some appropriate boundaries. Here’s how:

1. No phones at the table

It sounds like a simple rule, right? And yet I find that it is a huge struggle for families. Between older children bringing their phones to the table and parents who feel the need to check “just one work email,” family meals are consistently interrupted by technology use.

Set a new and clear boundary in your home: No phones at the table, no matter the need.

2. Stop short-changing family time

I can’t tell you how many kids tell me that they really want to watch movies as a family, but the minute the movie starts the parents pick up their phones and check out. This also happens when out in the world doing other stuff. One child told me how sad he felt when, every time he looked at his mom on the sidelines of his soccer game, she was on her phone.

To build relationships with your kids, you have to engage with them. You have to be present. Watch the movie. Pay attention during the game. Stop photographing every step of the family hike. Your kids want to make memories with you. To do that, they need your participation.

3. Carve out office hours

I know the struggle of finding time to work when at least some (if not all) that work has to be done from home. It’s not easy, and sometimes the stress of keeping up with everything feels overwhelming.

You don’t have to spend every single second engaged with your kids, but the quality of the time you spend together does matter. To that end, schedule in work hours at home and find a space away from the kitchen and family area of the house to focus on work. Tell your kids what you’re doing and about how long it will take.

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Just the other day I said to my kids, “I have two deadlines to meet today. I need one hour of focused work time, and then we can go out for a walk to the park. What can you guys do together while I work nearby?” They immersed themselves in play, and I made my deadlines.

It’s hard to step away from technology in the home. From work, to leisure, to education, we use mobile technology for a variety of reasons. We can’t just talk about balance, though, we have to actually take steps to find a healthy balance. The emotional health of our families depends on it.

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