Being a parent means constantly walking through a minefield of child-rearing opinions — from family, friends, well-meaning but nosy strangers on the sidewalk. In this New York Times piece, pediatrician Perri Klass, MD, spotlights a distinctly modern parenting problem that’s drawing more judgments: whether or not it’s okay to be distracted by screens in front of your kids.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Of course, screen addiction is a cultural issue that’s hardly limited to parents. Klass explains though that at a recent meeting discussing new screen time recommendations for kids from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the conversation turned to “distracted parenting” — “Parents at the playground looking at their phones while their children play, unsupervised,” Klass writes. “Parents at the Little League game checking their email and missing the all-important at-bat. Parents at dinner focused on the action on their screens, rather than the real people around the table.”

These scenes aren’t ideal, but being distracted as a parent isn’t new either, Klass argues. Moms and dads found ways to entertain themselves during the more tedious aspects of parenting well before we had the world wide web in the palms of our hands. What’s troublesome about using screens as the distraction du jour is, as Jenny Radesky, MD, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, told Klass, that “interactive technology and social media are designed to be emotionally absorbing and habit forming.” T means you’re far more likely to get so lost in Facebook that you don’t realize your child needs attention than you are to become deeply engrossed in a good book — and to repeat the behavior.

The other layer here is that more and more research shows that screens have a big impact on developing minds, including making it more difficult for kids to recognize emotions in other people. By constantly having a screen in hand in front of your children, you might inadvertently teach them to do the same later on.

The solution? Do as Radesky says and remember that “Technology is a tool; it’s how you use it.” Parents have enough judgments coming their way already, so it’s wisest to take a look at the role technology plays in your own time with your kids and adjust your personal habits from there — without making yourself feel guilty in the process. Even if you’re using screens for educational purposes, it’s healthy to put the screens down more often, establish technology boundaries for yourself and your kids and remind yourself that stepping away from the digital world can help you build stronger relationships.

Read the NYTimes article here.

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