I was in the mood for a big, juicy burger, and talked my husband into taking me to an upscale hamburger joint for dinner. While we were enjoying our appetizers and drinks, a young family of four sat down at the table next to us. From the moment they sat down, the young boys, approximately 6 and 8 years old, pulled out their electronic devices and quietly sat and amused themselves. Mom and Dad parked their smartphones on the table in front of them while they looked over the menu. They had a discussion about what to order for the boys and themselves, and then pulled out their smartphones and withdrew into their own worlds. They pulled themselves away from their phones to order, but then returned to their devices immediately afterwards. The boys never looked up from their electronics. They were all silent. It was weird. There was no conversation and no interaction between any of them. It was sad.
Look, I love my smartphone. It gives me the world at my fingertips. I can find out the answer to whatever question I have at a moment’s notice. I can converse with my husband and my daughters through text, and I can withdraw into my own little world with a good crossword puzzle, or check out my Facebook feed. It’s an amazing little machine; however, I know how to limit its use.
What are we teaching our kids when we withdraw into our phones and stop interacting with people? We are teaching them that they are not that important to us. We are teaching them that they have to compete, not just with their siblings, or the environment, but with our smartphones too.
And what are we not teaching them? We are not teaching them to converse and engage in socially appropriate ways. We are not teaching them to read social contexts, facial features, and environmental cues. We are losing ourselves in little machines, rather than in our children, whom we love so much!
When parents engage in smartphone use they are unpredictable, unreliable and often unreachable. Their parenting becomes interrupted and chaotic. In a 2016 study at the University of California, Irvine, researchers concluded that chaotic parenting during the critical time that offspring require nurturing produced unhappy offspring who exhibit risky behaviors, drug use, and depression in adolescence and adult life. This is because of the need for their children to have consistent and reliable input to increase neuron networks.
Another study, published in Developmental Science, concluded that smartphone use can be compared with other forms of maternal withdrawal and unresponsiveness, such as depression, and can impact an infant’s social and emotional functioning adversely. This impact creates children who have a negative outlook and poor emotional recovery.
So, what is the takeaway? Smartphone use has its place in our lives, but it must be limited. We need to nurture, interact and engage with our children so that they will develop socially and emotionally and will become adept at social engagement and conversation themselves. That is our job as parents, and we need to do it well.
Lisa H. Bernholz-Balsam MS, CCC-SLP/A, is a speech and language therapist at The Springboard School at Lubavitch on the Palisades, a multidisciplinary program for bright young children with developmental challenges. The unique curriculum, which focuses on social skills and emotional and behavioral regulation, provides the tools for success in a mainstream environment. Learn more at www.lpsnj.org/springboard.