Smartphones really did change the world, and for the most part it is great. I can keep in touch with friends at my fingertips, and I can find answers to even the most obscure questions. I feel comfortable traveling because I know my GPS can help me if I get lost, which is a big worry of mine.
But I will also be the first to admit that smartphones have completely derailed the way we interact with the people right in front of us. How many times have you zoned out of a conversation with someone at the dinner table because your phone buzzes and you feel a need to look immediately?
Our generation loves to brag about how we were the last kids to "actually play outside" and "know what it's like not to use our phones." The reality is, though, that we actually use our smartphones a lot, and it's affecting the way today's kids are growing up.
A new study from the University of Michigan and Illinois State University found that of 200 families surveyed, 40% of mothers admitted to having an addiction to their smartphone, while 32% of fathers admitted the same.
An addiction to your smartphone really just means you have a constant urge to check messages, think about sending text messages, feeling the need to constantly be on social media, or worry about where your phone is at any given time.
The study found that when parents have a phone addiction, it leads to "technoference," meaning everyday interactions with their kids are interrupted by their phone usage. This is reported to happen at least twice a day.
"Do you like it when you feel snubbed by someone, when that person isn't validating or listening to you?" asked study author Brandon McDaniel, an assistant professor of human development at Illinois State University. "It's the same thing with kids, but since they're not adults, the way they show it is probably by acting out a little more, Most parents really love their children, but it's hard for a child to feel that if you're staring at your phone."
U.K.’s National Health Service also commented on the effect smartphone usage has on a child, and corroborated the results found by the other universities.
“You go around [town] and see unbelievable attempts by children to communicate with the adult they are with but who is oblivious to them because they have headphones on. I find it very distressing,” Michelle Morris, one of Britain’s leading speech and language therapists and a consultant at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, told the Telegraph.
The interruptions and distractions can cause the children to act out, feeling neglected by their own parents. This connection is most frequently seen when a mother has a smartphone addiction, whereas the father's usage does not seem to demonstrate the same link.
“Perceived technoference in mother-child interactions was linked to child behavioral problems – both externalizing and internalizing behavior – as rated by mothers and fathers. However, perceived technoference in father-child interactions was not linked to behavioral issues,” stated the NHS.
These behavioral issues often manifest themselves in younger children by decreasing their desire to communicate.
“The attempt to communicate goes unrewarded and the child could, in time, learn that there’s no point in talking. For little children, it is these multiple interactions with an adult through which it learns language and how to speak,” Morris continued.
Morris recommends putting your phones away at night and talking to your children before they go to bed. Prioritizing your children over your phone should always be standard operating procedure.
"Children need parent-child interaction—they are social animals," Susan Neumanm, a professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University, added. "When parents isolate themselves by playing on their phone, children are not getting that basic human need, which is attention at particular times."
In the end, it all comes down to balance. There's no need to completely isolate yourself from everything that involves your phone, but there are steps you need to take to make sure your kids are getting all the attention they need.