Parents: Put Down the Digital Device

How is the time you spend on your phone affecting your children?


Published:

The harsh truth is that our incessant phone usage — be it texting, scrolling through Instagram, or reading the news — is having a negative effect on our children in many ways.

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“I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day,” wrote a Louisiana second grader in response to an assignment in which her class was tasked with describing something they wished was never invented. You may have seen the story that went viral earlier this year as a cutesy interlude on the evening news that the anchors laughed off as “something parents should think about.”

The time adults spend on their phones, and the effects it has on our children is no laughing matter. The Louisiana second grader gets it. She went on to write “A phone is sometimes a really bad habit. I hate my mom’s phone, and I wish she never had one.” Even more damning? Three other students in this elementary classroom agreed with similar responses. 

The harsh truth is that our incessant phone usage — be it texting, scrolling through Instagram, or reading the news — is having a negative effect on our children in many ways.

 

Lack of Social Attachment

Have you ever noticed that when you smile at a baby, she smiles back, and when you frown at her, she frowns? This is something Melanie Hempe, registered nurse and founder of Families Managing Media, describes as mirror neurons, and it’s crucial to a baby’s attachment to their parents and later social interaction with others.

“The only way babies can attach is to see our face,” Hempe says. “When you’re staring at your phone and talking to them, it means nothing.”

This lack of attachment, however, isn’t just relegated to babies. It’s relevant to children of all ages.

“It’s about checking in with your children,” says Amanda Zaidman, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Constructive Parenting. “‘What are you excited about today? What are you nervous about?’ You can’t talk about these things when you’re consumed by your phone.”

Lisa Pennington, a licensed psychologist and founder of Lisa Pennington and Associates agrees.

“The more a parent is on the phone, the less attentive they are. It’s in those moments that kids will act out to get attention,” Pennington says.

What starts out as minor temper tantrums can lead to much more serious developmental issues like falling grades and withdrawal from social activities like little league and gymnastics.

What can you do? For infants, refrain from using your phone during feeding times. While that may seem like boring down time to you, your baby is looking up at you and craving your attention.

For older children, dedicate a time each day to interact one-on-one with your child. Avoid multitasking during this time. Spending time together while your distracted with errands doesn’t count. Also, make sure your phone is off during this time.

 

Stunted Vocabulary Development

“Studies are overwhelming that kids who hear the right amount of words do so much better when it comes to literacy and vocabulary development,” Hempe says. It’s what experts often refer to as the 30 million word gap. The gap previously was more common in impoverished communities and schools. Today, the 30-million word gap is threatening homes where too much phone time by parents is prevalent.

“Our phone in our digital words is not all bad — it helps us keep in touch with grandparents via video chats — but it’s stealing words from our kids,” Hempe says.

When you’re lost in a heated Facebook conversation about whether or not kids should sleep in their parents’ beds, are you really engaged with the question your son is asking you? Conversation is more than passive listening and distracted responses. It’s tone, annunciation and inflection. It’s the 30 million words our kids need to see and hear before they turn 4.

What can you do? Be present with your children. Set the phone down and kneel to their level when they have a question for you. Spend a half-hour each day technology free reading with books. If too much “Goodnight Moon” becomes maddening (guilty as charged), read to them from one of your magazines. Inspire awe with a travel or sports magazine.

 

Negative Mirroring

The old phrase “do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work when our parents said it to us. Why, then, do we think it will work when we say it to our children?

“We’re worried about kids and too much time on screens, but we expose them to a lot from our own behavior,” Pennington says. 

Seeing us constantly checking our phone only tells our kids it’s OK for them to do the same. The dangers of kids being in front of screens too much has been the topic of entire books, yet, two perils stick out. The first is that our screen time directly leads to our children’s inability to cognitively process in the real world. The danger here is that children don’t have to be brave when screens make things easy. Why breakup with your girlfriend in person when it’s easier to do it over text? Think of the ramifications that this default could have on marriages and interactions with co-workers.

Our constant use of phones also teaches children that it is not OK to be bored. “Boredom is really important for kids as it lets their brains re-boot,” Zaidman says. “When we’re bored, that’s when creativity flourishes. If our brain is always working, it isn’t being creative.”

Think of your own mental exhaustion from the dopamine hit you receive from each task you complete, email you reply to or social media interaction you respond to.

What can you do? Create phone free times and zones in the house. For example, don’t allow the use of phones by you or your children at the family table or after the work day is done. Also, create phone charging stations outside of the bedroom to avoid getting lost in email or social media before you go to bed or first thing in the morning when you wake up.

 

Unnecessary Stress and Anxiety

“There are parents that don’t think twice about having the news on in the background all the time,” Pennington says. “Kids are fearful of things they wouldn’t typically be exposed to. I had kids come into my office that were tearful and afraid after the election because there was so much backlash in the media. In a child’s day-to-day life, they shouldn’t have this much fear.”

These messages don’t just come from TV, they also come from the news feed on your phone. Take out your smartphone right now and swipe right. What headlines do you read? Are any of them positive? When you read these articles, how do they made you feel? Like in the modeling example above, what are your children learning from your reaction? 

“Even something as simple as notifications from a weather app causes anxiety in kids,” Pennington says, as she relates taking a beach vacation with her family while Hurricane Chris flirted with the coast of North Carolina. Those notifications lead to turning on the TV, which only instills more worry.

What can you do? Reduce your news intake around your family. Turn off the morning or evening news when the family sits down to eat. Silence news notifications on your phone. Remove news topics that can serve as trigger points from your phone’s news feed. 

“Time that we spend with our kids is precious,” Zaidman says. “It’s that shortest-longest time conundrum. That hour may feel boring with our long list of “do’s,” but time is short, and it’s easy to look back with regret. Spend time cuddling instead of looking at your phone to find out what’s next on your schedule.”

Bryan M. Richards is a beer, food and travel writer who has happily added parenting to his family credentials. His work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Beer Advocate and just about anything with the word Charlotte in it. He’s still struggling to balance his own phone usage with parenting a toddler.

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July 2020

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Superior Play Systems
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Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
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Website »

More information

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Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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Website »

More information

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Cost: $6-$7, children 3 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
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1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
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More information

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Where:
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Cost: $15

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Cost: $21-$31

Where:
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2024 Redbud Drive
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Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
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View map »


Website »

More information

George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows presented faith of Jesus Christ in song. Come discover the ways the Lord used their efforts and their music to open hearts around the world. Read inspiring...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Billy Graham Library
4330 Westmont Drive
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: The Billy Graham Library
Website »

More information

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Cost: $8, $10 on weekends and school holidays

Where:
Superior Play Systems
11415 Granite St.
Suite C
, NC
View map »


Website »

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Cost: $5 per person (free for members); $5 per car for parking

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Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
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View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
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Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

The Things Come Apart exhibit reveals the inner workings of common, everyday items. Images explore how things are designed and how technology has evolved over time.

Cost: $6-$7, children 3 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Schiele Museum
1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
Gastonia, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for our Pinkyswear Virtual Kids Triathlon event. This virtual event which kicks off formally on June 1st for all ages and abilities, and the triathlon can be completed anywhere! The...

Cost: $15

Where:
, NC


Sponsor: Pinkyswear Foundation
Contact Name: Valorie Liggett
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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Cost: $21-$31

Where:
New Hope Baptist Church
2024 Redbud Drive
Gastonia, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows presented faith of Jesus Christ in song. Come discover the ways the Lord used their efforts and their music to open hearts around the world. Read inspiring...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Billy Graham Library
4330 Westmont Drive
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: The Billy Graham Library
Website »

More information

Drop in for safe play on the equipment indoors.

Cost: $8, $10 on weekends and school holidays

Where:
Superior Play Systems
11415 Granite St.
Suite C
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Website »

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Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

The Things Come Apart exhibit reveals the inner workings of common, everyday items. Images explore how things are designed and how technology has evolved over time.

Cost: $6-$7, children 3 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Schiele Museum
1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
Gastonia, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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View map »


Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
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More information

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Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for our Pinkyswear Virtual Kids Triathlon event. This virtual event which kicks off formally on June 1st for all ages and abilities, and the triathlon can be completed anywhere! The...

Cost: $15

Where:
, NC


Sponsor: Pinkyswear Foundation
Contact Name: Valorie Liggett
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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More information

George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows presented faith of Jesus Christ in song. Come discover the ways the Lord used their efforts and their music to open hearts around the world. Read inspiring...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Billy Graham Library
4330 Westmont Drive
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: The Billy Graham Library
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On Saturdays and Sundays from noon-5pm, the arcade bar opens to all ages with a parent or guardian present.

Cost: Cost for games

Where:
Abari Game Bar
1721 N. Davidson St.
, NC
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Telephone: 980-430-4587
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Live the story of Stephen and the Apostles. Experience the rousing power of ANNO DOMINI: the year of our Lord while enjoying a Greek dinner.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theater
3327 Highway 51
Fort Mill, SC  29715
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The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library presents monthly story times at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. every second Saturday of the month.

Cost: Free

Where:
Northlake Mall Live 360° Games Court
6801 Northlake Mall Drive
, NC
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Sponsor: Northlake Mall
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River Jam brings live music outdoors, right in the middle of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. Hear music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during each of...

Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
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Sponsor: USNWC
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Bring chairs and blankets to watch movies in the park. Concessions will be available for purchase. The second Saturday of the month, May through September with a Halloween special on Oct. 17. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Stowe Park
24 S. Main St.
Belmont, NC
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This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
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Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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The Things Come Apart exhibit reveals the inner workings of common, everyday items. Images explore how things are designed and how technology has evolved over time.

Cost: $6-$7, children 3 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Schiele Museum
1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
Gastonia, NC
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See the original, Broadway-style dinner show, and experience the story of Stephen and the Apostles. See website for showtimes.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theatre
3327 Hwy 51
Fort Mill, SC
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Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
Telephone: 803-802-2300
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This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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Join us for our Pinkyswear Virtual Kids Triathlon event. This virtual event which kicks off formally on June 1st for all ages and abilities, and the triathlon can be completed anywhere! The...

Cost: $15

Where:
, NC


Sponsor: Pinkyswear Foundation
Contact Name: Valorie Liggett
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Annual Guides

G.P.S. [Go.Play.See]

Your guide to raising kids in the Queen City, plus our 2019 Readers' Favorites for places to play, explore and learn with the kids.

Education Guide

A comprehensive guide to independent, private, charter and public schools in Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Union and York counties.
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