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The other message you send when texting in front of your child

TORONTO – Most people are tied to technology, constantly tapping away on smartphones texting, emailing or checking social media sites. But psychologists say distracted parenting can affect children more than you think.

“Children notice and if you are supposed to be having quality time with them, it’s not quality time if you’re on your device,” said Dr. Lynne Beal, a psychologist. “Children know and feel ignored.”

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics researchers at the Boston Medical Center went to fast food restaurants and observed 55 caregivers eating with 1 or more young children.  Observers recorded the interactions and reactions of caregivers and children.

Observers found 40 caregivers used digital devices during the meal and appeared to be more engaged in the device than the children.

Of the 40 interactions, children either entertained themselves or acted out trying to get the caregivers attention.  The study also found highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehaviour.

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Psychologists believe you’re sending more than one message with that “quick” email or text.

“Children are developing this awareness that parents are going to be absent from them even when they’re in the same room,” said Dr. Beal.  “That creates the expectation that children can do the same thing as well.”

When you pretend to be listening and trying to hide that you’re texting on your phone under the table, Beal says you aren’t fooling anyone.

“When you do that, you’re even giving the message that you’re not honest about what’s going on and that’s not the culture you want to engender within your family around communication.  You want a culture of honesty and openness,” she said.

Constant distraction with digital devices while parenting can lead to longer term issues, Beal said.

“When children see that as normal behaviour in their family, they will repeat it and that will be the only way they interact in their community and social life as well.  It does become problematic in school when kids don’t want to put devices away,” said Beal.

To make the most of quality time, Dr. Beal suggests, setting boundaries and deciding certain family times are off limits to digital devices, such as mealtime.

Dr. Beal adds, “Remember, if you have the time with your children, they’re not going to be this age for very long.  Make the best use of it because you’re engendering the kind of relationship you’ll have with them in the future.”

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