Could scrolling through your social media timelines be contributing to naughty behavior among the little ones in your household?
Psychologists say children of parents who spend too much time on tech devices are more likely to display increased bad behavior, social withdrawal, lack of sleep and language delays.
While diving into your email or social media around your child might seem harmless, it actually decreases parent-child social interactions and opportunities for your child to learn from you.
“There is a time in childhood development called a critical period and that’s the time when the child’s body is taking in everything in their environment and learning from it,” explains Dr. Katrina Lindsay, pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “As parents, if we’re on our cell phones during that critical period, our children are missing some of those really important, significant cues that have to deal with social and emotional development, learning, language and emotional regulation.”
Not only are children missing important learning opportunities, they might also try disruptive ways to get your attention.
“A child will try to get attention through positive means or negative means,” Lindsay explains. “It might start off nicely like, ‘Hey mom, look what I did at school,’ but if that doesn’t work, they might pick on their little brother or knock a glass over on purpose.”
Once they begin getting your attention through bad behaviors, it can be difficult to break the cycle. Lindsay says there are ways for children to learn good attention-seeking behaviors.
“We need to catch our kids making good choices and then we need to confirm that with really detailed affirmation instead of only responding when they make a bad choice,” she says.
“To a child, any attention is considered good attention.” Dr. Felipe Amunategui, associate program director of child psychiatry at University Hospitals’ Cleveland Medical Center, adds that children learn what they see from parents, including behavior with technology.
“What’s really interesting is how the parent models their behavior around the child and then they want the child to show a different behavior,” he says.
For example, he says you can’t expect your child to put down their device when you’re speaking to them, if you’re constantly on a device yourself and don’t practice the same courtesy.
He also advises parents to watch how they interact on social apps, because that also teaches children how to behave on the web.
Before you post that negative comment or political rant, think about whether you’d want your child to do the same.
“Think about how we banter online and how we respond online,” Amunategui says. “Those ways of interacting remove us from the other human and it’s easy to be hostile and mean to an individual when you’re behind a keyboard and a screen.”
While it might be unrealistic to unplug at all times when you’re around your children, psychologists advise limiting your time on devices by having a “tech-free hour” each night, or powering down devices earlier in evening as part of your family’s bedtime routine.