Smartphones: Good Or Bad News For Families?

Smartphones: Good Or Bad News For Families?

Technology is changing the way we live.

It allows us to connect with people on the other side of the globe, detect and treat life-threatening conditions, and learn more about the world.

Technology is also changing the way we parent, and the jury is still out on whether that’s a good thing or not.

The Benefits Of Smartphones

You’d have to be crazy to argue that smartphones have brought nothing but problems to modern parents. Sure, they have their downsides, but smartphones offer a lifeline to many new parents.

For the new mama sitting awake at 4am during another night feed, the smartphone allows her to connect with other mamas in the same boat. Smartphones allow instant internet access, which can be used to diagnose suspicious rashes, search for colic remedies, or check whether your baby’s poop is healthy. They allow parents to reach out for help at any time, even when out and about.

You can take millions of photos of your beautiful baby without ever having to dig out your camera. You can edit, upload and share those gorgeous images with all of your friends and family – and it doesn’t cost you a penny. Smartphones allow us to stay well and truly connected with the outside world, even when we’re locked away at home. But is that a good thing?

The Potential Downside Of Smartphones

Obsessive checking of messages can ruin a dinner, or a night out. Public transport is unbearable thanks to the loud music blaring from a smartphone at the back of the bus. Privacy is a thing of the past. As well as all this, smartphones could be having a major impact on the next generation.

When you were growing up, you didn’t have to compete with technology to get your parents’ attention. You might have had a landline phone, but it wasn’t something your parents would use idly and passively for hours, while simultaneously trying to parent. The truth is, children growing up today are competing with smartphones to hold their parents’ attention. This is a new phenomenon and we don’t yet know what impact it will have on our children.

Smartphones allow parents to multitask. You can check your emails, post photos to Instagram and chat in a parenting group on Facebook, while caring for your child. You don’t need to sit at a computer; you can do it all as you eat lunch with your kid. It’s easy to get caught up in what can be obsessive phone checking. Emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, repeat. But what does your child make of all this?

Is your child missing out on vital social interactions because you’re too busy staring at a screen to look into his eyes? Are you really listening to him when you’re in the middle of an important email? How does your child feel when you chat away without taking your eyes off your phone? If questioned, who would your child say you love more – him or your phone?

Finding The Balance

There’s no need to throw your smartphone out. It gives you a flexibility that parents have simply never had before. You can work from absolutely anywhere, allowing you to reply to emails while your child plays happily at the park. It isn’t a bad thing, and it’s certainly not something you need to learn to live without.

That said, the impact of smartphone use on developing children isn’t yet known, so what can you do to minimise the potential damage? There are simple steps you can take to make sure that your child knows he comes first, and that he isn’t competing with your phone. Here are just a few ideas to help you get your smartphone use under control:

#1: Leave Your Smartphone At Home

What’s the point of having a mobile phone if you have to leave it home? Sure. But do you really need to take it out every single time you leave the house? Try to leave your phone at home a couple of times a week. This will give you the chance to switch off, and engage with your kids instead. Without the temptation of a smartphone, you’ll be free to give them your undivided attention. Try it. You might notice a positive change in your kids when they can enjoy a bit of quality time with you, away from technology.

#2: Set Some Ground Rules

He’s still a young child, but one day he’s going to grow into a teenager. Set ground rules about technology use now, so you won’t have to battle to implement changes in the future. After all, if you’ve been glued to your phone during dinner time for the last 12 years, how can you expect your teenager to shun technology at the table. No smartphones during meal times is a pretty good rule, and you could also consider implementing a ‘no smartphones before breakfast’ policy too. Imagine your child as a teenager. What sort of smartphone use would you like to encourage in that situation? Remember, your child is growing up watching the ways you use your phone, so model the behaviour you hope he will adopt in the future.

#3: Be Mindful

You probably don’t even realise how frequently you check your phone during the day; after all, smartphone use is pretty much second nature these days. Whenever you find a quiet minute, you probably reach for your smartphone without even realising you’re doing it. This is fine when your child is busy, but what about when he wants your attention? Do you immediately put your phone away, or continue what you’re doing? Ask yourself whether you really need to do that right now. If the answer is yes, explain it to your child. If not, shelve it for later.

#4: Look Up

It’s all too easy to be glued to your smartphone. If you don’t look at your kids when talking to them, you’ll miss out on facial expressions, engagement and eye contact. And more importantly, so will they. You are your children’s most important influence. They will learn how to interact, how to regulate their emotions, and how to communicate – all through watching you. To make sure you’re setting a good example, make a conscious effort to look up from your phone when your children talk to you – even if you are in the middle of an important email.

What Resources Exist For Learning About Technology’s Impact?

Having technology constantly at our fingertips is pretty new. We’re just beginning to learn about the effects of constant digital interaction. Fortunately, The Center For Human Technology is raising awareness and seeking solutions for the negative impact technology can have. Be sure to check out their website which includes a TED Talk and consider joining their movement.

Recommended Reading: If you found this interesting, take a look at BellyBelly’s article Social Media: Friend Or Foe?

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Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.

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