Katherine Streeter for NPR
Anya Kamenetz is a NPR Training Correspondent, a host of Life Kit and author of The Art Of Screen Time . This story draws from the book and the latest reporting for Life Kit's guide, Parenting: Screen Time and Your Family .
Elise Potts picked up her 17-month-old daughter, Eliza, from the nursery recently. When they got home they were greeted by a strange scene.
"My husband … he's waving his arms like a crazy man". Potts says. "He has these things in his hands, he has a black box in his face … and [Eliza] looks and she points, all confused and she says, Dad?"
Dad, it turned out, had a new one Oculus virtual reality head.
Potts, who lives in Seattle, can't help but wonder what her daughter does about all the digital technology that surrounds her. Elisa's reaction, she says, is "really sweet, but it's also scary, because I think about it from her perspective. What does that mean to her?"
That's a good question. The mobile technology revolution is barely a decade old and it presents special challenges for parents and caregivers, says pediatrician Jenny Radesky, who sees patients at the University of Michigan and is one of the leading researchers in parents, children and new media.
"The phone took decades to reach 50 million global users, and we had Pokemon Go do it within, like two and a half weeks," Radesky says. "So we all know that we have been swamped by a wave of all these new stuff."
Most of us feel that sometimes we at least fail to handle the competing bids for attention that comes from jobs, children, partners, and from our digital devices.
While not wanting to come as "parenting parents", Radesky and other experts shared four takeaways from the research that can guide parents who want to improve their relationships with both their children and technology.
Remove your phone whenever possible with your children.
Most of us would wear a family member who comes to the dinner table with headphones in, let alone a VR headset. But telephones can be equally disturbing for small interactions with children – a phenomenon that some researchers have called "technoference".
For Potts, it is as if many parents are opposed. "It just drives me crazy when we all sit at the dinner table and [my husband] will get a notification on this phone, and he thinks as long as he keeps the phone out of sight it is okay."
Parents of toddlers record their phones on average nearly 70 times a day, according to a recent Radesky pilot study. But most parents in that survey both underestimated how often they picked up their phones and how much time they spent on them.
If you look at the phone, it is partly an unconscious habit that Radesky's study suggests, it can become dangerous. In at least two situations, distracted parenting can be a literal life or death issue – when you drive and when you are at the pool.
But Radesky has insights on the more subtle, emotional effects of this dynamic – what she calls "micro-interactions" among parents, children, and screens.
Stop using your phone as a pacifier – for you or your child.
Potts froze over this situation with his daughter: "We are on a bus, we stayed a little too long somewhere and we go home and we are late for naptime and she will have a melting … So I go out the phone. "
She wants to know," Is it bad? "
Radesky says this is incredibly common. Her research has found a correlation between behavioral problems and screen use of children and by their parents.
By following families over time, her research has documented what she calls a "bi-directional flow" between parents "screen usage, children's screen usage, and children's emotional problems, whether or not tantrums and behaviors, or vice versa, become more retrieved.
In other words The more children act, the more stressed parents become, the more stressed parents become, the more they become to the screens as a distraction – for themselves and for their children.
But the more parents turn to screens, for themselves or their children, the more their children tend to act.
Radesky adds that when you check out by pulling out the phone in difficult times, you lack important information to help you become a better parent – and help prevent more tough moments in the future.
"We need to be watching, listening and gathering evidence so that we can answer correctly and help our b arn to develop their own self-regulatory skills, she says.
- Use apps like Moment or Screen Time to track your screen usage and block your phone from working on certain occasions – like during dinner.
- Keep it out of sight and immediately: Create a charging station near the front door; Leave it in the bag during stressful times like the morning or evening routine.
- Turn off messages so you decide when to check the phone.
But life is not perfect, and sometimes we have to be in two places at the same time. If you need to use your phone around your kids:
- Wait for moments, your kids are really committed and happy to do something else.
- Describe what you do, say researchers danah boyd. "Let's check the weather to see what you should have at school," for example, or "Let's ask Mom to get milk on the way home from work."
- If you usually use a screen to soothe your baby, instead try a short video or audio track that will teach you more attentive soothing techniques. Radesky suggests an Elmo "belly breathing" video from Sesam Street. GoNoodle has similar videos aimed at older children.
Before posting a picture or sharing a sweet story about your children on social media, think twice and get their permission if possible.
A British study found that parents share about 1,500 pictures of their children when they are 5. Stacy Steinberg, jur. Professor at the University of Florida believes that we should think twice about this behavior she calls "sharenting".
Steinberg specializes in children's rights. She is also a photographer and a mother of three, and she began to wonder: "How could we balance our children's right to privacy with our interest in sharing our stories?"
Steinberg wants parents "to consider their well-being children not only right now but years in the future if they were to come across the information that had been shared."
- Check your privacy settings at all social media
- Do not share naked or partially dressed images or videos online.
- Give the children a veto on what you share as soon as they are old enough to understand the concept of "sending grandma this picture" – 3 or 4.
- Do not share openly personally identifiable information about your children, such as their faces, names, birthdays or exact addresses. It can expose them to data owners, who build profiles and sell them to marketers. or to hackers, who can create fraudulent accounts and spoil children's credit before they start kindergarten.
After her 8-year-old gymnastics met, Steinberg put the laptop on the kitchen counter so that they could look through the pictures together and select them to post. Then they responded together to comments from family and friends.
This is a good method for some reasons, she says. It protects the children's privacy, and it helps them stay in touch with family and friends.
It is also a good way for role-modeling respectful behavior and good judgment on social media. Children need these training wheels to understand how to interact online.
Do not use technology to stalk your children.
Apps that Find My iPhone allow us to see where our children are all the time.
But should you?
Devorah Heitner, a parent educator and author of Screenwise says, "When our children feel confident, they will often make better decisions than if they do not feel trusted because we do not encourage them to feel that they need to lie or be misleading ".
Ultimately, we are raising adults who will grow up and have to make their own choices. We must balance protect them by empowering them.
- When your kids turn 13 and get their own social media, they write down their passwords and put them in a sealed envelope. Let them know that if they seem to be in trouble, drop their grades or they hit the curfew, you open the envelope and find out what you need to know.
- Scientists danah boyd, author of It's complicated: The social life of network drains says that your child may or may not choose to be your "friend" on social media. When they later enter high school, it is good to recruit trusted people in their network – older siblings, cousins, family friends or aunts – to follow them and also keep an eye. It really takes a village.