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Parents, put your phones down and hang out with your kids


Save the Children's Jacqui Southey wants parents to put down their phones and spend time with their kids.

Rosa Woods/Stuff

Save the Children’s Jacqui Southey wants parents to put down their phones and spend time with their kids.

Today marks New Zealand Children’s Day – a time to celebrate our tamariki and recognise the importance and needs of children in society. Save the Children Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey asks parents to put their phones down and hang out with their kids.

OPINION: A long-lost friend has just updated her profile pic, there’s a sale from your favourite brand, the latest app or Netflix season has just come out; our everyday world is saturated with digital updates and notifications to our phone or tablet every second of the day.

But while there are many benefits to be gained from our digital world, there are also trade-offs.

We’ve all heard about the need to limit device use and screen time for our children, from the very young through to teenagers. But what about us – the adults, parents, grandparents? Where are the suggested guidelines for screen time, and what impact does our time lived in the digital world have on our tamariki?

Young children are closely attuned to their parents’ attention – depending on it for their very survival, as well as their social and emotional development. Recent studies show the damage parents can do when they’re physically present but distracted and less responsive because they’re busy scrolling through a feed on their smartphone. The result: less resilient and independent children.

* I confess. I realise I’m addicted to my smartphone
* Think again before you post those pics of your kids online
* Is your phone use hurting your baby’s development?
* Family time without digital distractions

One international study of infants and toddlers (from seven months to two years) reported that children expressed more distress and were less likely to explore their environment while their parents were on their cell phones.

Research has also found that the impact of parents distracted on their device can lead to the reduction of language acquisition in children up to two years of age, parents being more hostile or robotic in response to their child’s demands for attention, and higher levels of children’s displaying more negative behaviours like whining, sulking, restlessness, or temper tantrums.

Research shows it’s unhealthy for families to spend too much time on mobile devices.


Research shows it’s unhealthy for families to spend too much time on mobile devices.

Emerging research from Australia reveals an association between parents’ mobile device use and increased injuries in young children.

In fact, so widespread is the impact of technology interfering with the attention we give to our children that it even has its own name: ‘technoference’.

Key to relationships is communicating and observing. Communicating with our children, listening, discussing, making eye contact, being interested and responsive.

Observing is also crucial to our children’s wellbeing and safety. Picking up on the cues from our teens, that despite their guarantee that ‘nothing is wrong’, their body language is telling us a completely different story.

And our little ones, while they may be busy playing, are we aware if they have something in their mouths, or have moved to a different, less safe part of the playground? When children are little disasters and triumphs can happen in minutes, that first crawl or step, making it up the steps by themselves, or equally quick – choking on a small object or getting lost.

Put your phone down today. Children’s Day is the perfect opportunity to consciously commit our attention to our children without the distraction of an Instagram story or online sale.

It’s time to reconnect with the real world as you disconnect from the digital. Take the kids outside and kick a ball around, get out the old board games or pack of cards, talk, ask questions, draw together. Have fun and enjoy their different points of view on the world.

Because taking time to connect with our children is not only good for their wellbeing, but for ours too.


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