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Make 2017 the year of putting your child ahead of technology distractions

Could your technology use be affecting your child’s development?

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 for you, putting aside some technology-free time with your child each day could be a worthwhile choice of New Year’s resolution.

“As a parent, your child no doubt comes first in your life. You work hard to ensure that their every material need is taken care of, to keep them well nourished, clean and safe. 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,” says behavioural psychologist Dr Jacqui Joubert, consultant to Resolution Health Medical Scheme (Resolution Health).

“It is common knowledge that distracted driving is extremely dangerous, and many people have taken a firm decision not to use their cellphones while driving. Yet how many parents consider the potential consequences of distracted parenting and whether theircellphone behaviour could be affecting their children’s development? While many of us would quickly dismiss this idea as far-fetched, it is worth examining how much time we spend interacting with technology while we are with our children,” she notes.

“Children require physical engagement with their parents including eye contact, touch and emotional participation, in order to learn the emotional, social and cognitive skills that will equip them for life.  What many adults do not realise is that children notice from a very young age if their parents are too absorbed in technology or other distractions to meaningfully respond to them,” she explains.

When children become used to parents paying more attention to their cellphones than to them, this 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, whether you are taking an important work phone call or simply playing on Facebook in your child’s presence.

“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,” Dr Joubert adds.

“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 behaviour.”

“While certain studies have indicated that the presence of mobile technology influences interpersonal interaction, including interaction between parents and children, it is still unclear what the extent of any long-term effects this may have on the child’s development. This is because cellphones have become increasingly commonly used over the last two decades, and sufficientlongitudinal research and studies are yet to be conducted and published to prove the effects of distracted parenting with specific reference to cellphones usage. Wecould however deduce that the long-term consequences in these cases could have a negative impacton our children and their relationships as they grow up.”

Dr Joubert says that the very nature of mobile technology means that it is always available, and is becoming firmly entrenched as a part of everyday life. “When mobile technology becomes normalised as a part of family life, then it can quickly develop into a habitual pattern and lifestyle problem if parents become too reliant on it.”

In order to help mitigatepotential negative psychosocial implications on your child’s development, Dr Joubert recommends unplugging from technology when spending time with your child, 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. Put your cellphone or laptop away when you are with your children. When this really is not possible, at the very least try to refrain from checking your phone every time an alert sounds, as this conveys the impression that the parent values an electronic device over giving attention to their child.

“I would like to encourage parents to consider making a lasting lifestyle change through making technology-free time for their children every day. This is a truly worthwhile New Year’s resolution, which could significantly assist your child to develop better social skills that will serve them well in the future.

“Parents need to show maturity in prioritising their children over the allure of technology, which is increasingly intruding on our daily lives. Rather than allowing your cellphone to distract your attention away from your child, perhaps put it to better use by taking photographs of your child to capture precious memories,” Dr Joubert concludes.