According to a recent report, “our youngest kids [8 and under] are spending nearly 10 times as much time with their eyes glued to screens than they did in 2011.” In light of the statistics, Michelle Maltais with the Los Angeles Times boldly suggests that maybe parents have more to do with their kids’ excessive use of smartphones than they realize.
Maltais writes of her own experiences as a mother. She reflects that she and her husband have “made a big effort to power down and unplug” especially since their children now have their own smartphones. And they’ve pursued that “pixel-restricting, balanced media diet” with success, she says.
But, at the same time, Maltais notices that she still continues to overuse her own personal devices. This even happens to the exclusion of interacting with her children, despite her efforts to encourage their own engagement with the world beyond the screen. She knows her children must notice this, which means that she is setting them a poor example of how to “integrate and interact with technology,” as Maltais puts it.
With brutal honesty, she goes on to describe the image she’s giving her children: “I use tech the way my dad used alcohol — compulsively, irresponsibly and excessively. No matter how I carefully monitor what and how much [my children] watch, they are watching me more. And what they see is my eyes aren’t on them, really.”
Maltais even observes that, during the recent #MeToo social media takeover, she “was spending more time and energy sharing my story on Facebook than with the people on whom it would have an actual impact. My eyes were fixed on my screen, not on my family.” In other words, while she should have been reaching out to her children about those deep issues surrounding sexual harassment, she was instead investing in an online trend.
And this mother is not alone. Too many other parents do the same day after day. Despite their own efforts to wrest their children from the firm grip of technology, they give more time to their screens than to their children. Even adults and young adults who are not parents aren’t beyond reproach. We all dedicate too much of the valuable resource of time to a virtual world while we let the real world and the real people in it—especially little ones—disappear behind our smartphones.
As Maltais reminds her readers, “In order for studies that highlight the habits and impact of technology on our kids to hold any meaning for families, we first have to look up from the screens ourselves.” So let’s all drop the phones and look our kids in the eyes. If we don’t, then they certainly won’t either.