Columns 12.1.2017 05:31 am

Parents need to prioritise children over technology

AFP/File / Frederic J. Brown<br />A woman types on the keyboard of her laptop computer in Beijing on January 7, 2010

AFP/File / Frederic J. Brown
A woman types on the keyboard of her laptop computer in Beijing on January 7, 2010

There are certain fundamentals in your interaction with your child that may be overlooked when you are busy on your phone.

Could your child be feeling neglected, even when you are in the same room with him or her? If you are absorbed in reading this article on your cellphone or laptop in your child’s presence right now, it is possible that you could be a distracted parent. If this rings a bell, putting aside some technology-free time with your child each day could be a worthwhile choice for a new year’s resolution.

As a parent, your child comes first in your life. You work hard to ensure that their every material need is taken care of. In today’s technology-driven world, however, many parents do not fully realise the value of giving their children undivided attention, without interruptions from cellphones or computers.

It is common knowledge that distracted driving is extremely dangerous, and many people have taken a decision not to use their cellphones while driving. Yet how many parents consider the potential consequences of distracted parenting and whether their cellphone behaviour could be affecting their children’s development? It is worth examining how much time we spend interacting with technology while we are with our children.

Children require physical engagement with their parents including eye contact, touch and emotional participation to learn the emotional, social and cognitive skills that will equip them for life. Children notice from a very young age if their parents are too absorbed in technology or other distractions to meaningfully respond to them. When children become used to parents paying more attention to their cellphones than to them, it can have lasting psychosocial implications because distracted parenting may influence a child’s development.

There are certain fundamentals in your interaction with your child that may be overlooked when you are busy on your phone. Children need discipline and take their cue for establishing emotional boundaries and connections from their parents. Therefore, if parents are conveying the message that the cellphone takes precedence over respect for human relationships, the child is likely to feel ignored and this is akin to emotional neglect.

As children learn social behaviour from their parents, they may grow up to exhibit similar patterns of behaviour. For example, studies have demonstrated that people often respond harshly when they are “interrupted” while absorbed in technology. If you were to frequently snap at your child when they require your attention, this could teach your child that disrespecting interpersonal relationships is acceptable.

While certain studies have indicated that the presence of mobile technology influences interpersonal interaction, it is still unclear what long-term effects it may have on the child’s development as longitudinal studies are yet to be conducted. But we could deduce that the long-term consequences could be negative for our children and their relationships as they grow up.

To help mitigate this, unplug from technology when spending time with them, at least for a few hours each day. Teach your children the value of meaningful interaction by being fully present, and engaging your child without such distractions. Parents need to show maturity in prioritising their children over technology, which is increasingly intruding in our lives. Rather than allowing your cellphone to distract you from your child, put it to better use by taking photos of him or her to capture precious memories.

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