“Much of the concern about cell phones and instant messaging and Twitter has been focused on how children who incessantly use the technology are affected by it, writes Julie Scelfo. “But parents’ use of such technology— and its effect on their offspring— is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.”
New York Times lifestyle writer Julie Scelfo shares some insights and findings in a thought provoking article on the emotional and academic consequences of our society’s widespread use of personal communication devices and social media tools. Here is an excerpt from her article.
Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread.
In her studies, Dr. Turkle said, “Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.
Dr. Turkle said that she recognizes the pressure adults feel to make themselves constantly available for work, but added that she believes there is a greater force compelling them to keep checking the screen.
“There’s something that’s so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world,” she said. “I’ve talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they get resistance, ‘Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.’ It’s like ‘one more drink.’ ”
Not all child-development experts think smart phone and laptop use by parents is necessarily a bad thing, of course. Parents have always had to divide their attention, and researchers point out that there’s a difference between quantity and quality when it comes to conversations between parents and children.
“It sort of comes back to quality time, and distracted time is not high-quality time, whether parents are checking the newspaper or their BlackBerry,” said Frederick J. Zimmerman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health who has studied how television can distract parents.
He also noted that smart phones and laptops may enable some parents to spend more time at home, which may, in turn, result in more, rather than less, quality time overall.
There is little research on how parents’ constant use of such technology affects children, but experts say there is no question that engaged parenting— talking and explaining things to children, and responding to their questions— remains the bedrock of early childhood learning.
Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley’s landmark 1995 book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” shows that parents who supply a language-rich environment for their children help them develop a wide vocabulary, and that helps them learn to read.
The book connects language use at home with socioeconomic status. According to its findings, children in higher socioeconomic homes hear an average of 2,153 words an hour, whereas those in working-class households hear only about 1,251; children in the study whose parents were on welfare heard an average of 616 words an hour.
Dr. Hart, who is now professor emeritus at the University of Kansas Life Span Institute, said that more research is needed to find out whether the constant use of smart phones and other technology is interfering with parent-child communications. But she expressed hope that more parents would consider how their use of electronic devices might be limiting their ability to meet their children’s needs.
Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and the mother of a college aged son works believes education matters because “only the educated are free.”