Get off your phone for your children’s sake

Does it surprise you when children behave badly if their parents are distracted by a smartphone? Me neither.

But now we have a sophisticated study that shows us just how much we adults play into the hands of our children when we spend too much time on our handsets.

The US study of 170 families examined how much a phone, tablet or laptop interrupted interaction between mums, dads and children.

Almost half of parents reported at least three interruptions while talking to their children on a typical day, while a quarter said it happened about twice.

Parents then rated child behaviour according to how often their children whined, sulked, got frustrated, had tantrums or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

The research by Michigan and Illinois State Universities found such episodes were more common among children whose parents admitted to using smartphones while talking to their children. The sort of interruptions were checking phone messages during mealtimes, playtimes and during conversations with their kids.

Something as simple as checking texts while talking to children was associated with more child behaviour problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

Researchers urge parents to carve out times – such as mealtimes – where no family member is allowed to use phones or tablets.

Senior author Jenny Radesky, a child behaviour expert and paediatrician at University of Michigan, said: “It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use altogether at home.

“But setting boundaries can help parents keep handsets and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.” It was possible some parents turned to their smartphones to “de-stress”. Better to allocate set times to check your inbox.

Here in the UK Liz King headmistress at St Joseph’s RC Primary School, in Middlesbrough, put up signs asking parents to not using their phones while picking up children.

She said: “We are always looking at ways to engage parents and we have the signs at each entrance.

“They are simple, but they carry a really important message. We are trying to develop our speaking and listening in school and we thought it was a really simple way to get the message across.”

Some tips

  • Remove distracting devices from your living space. Don’t use your phone as an alarm. Implement a phone-free mealtime rule.
  • Begin with a regular phone detox hour, allocating an hour a day to unplugging and doing something real.
  • Gradually, extend this to a tech-free day, then a tech-free weekend.