“More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents.” This statement jogged my memory of a photo I once saw. It was of a couple sitting up in bed, as they were illuminated by the light of their phones in the darkness of the night. Neither of them appeared to be speaking to the other. They each were focused solely on the device they held in their hands. Since then, I have seen other photos that depict a parent pushing a child away while they look at their phone just a little longer. These images have stuck in my mind for years and have made me think about the strong effects technology has on parents. Here I will outline what research says about proactive vs. passive use of social media, how to begin balancing screen time with quality time, and give solutions to develop a healthier approach to technology as a parent.
Proactive vs. Passive Use
In the research surrounding social media, Sarah Coyne sheds light on the proactive and passive uses of social media. Social media if used proactively in healthy ways can uplift and motivate. This can be seen through connecting with others through supportive interaction such as “liking” a post, sharing content, commenting, etc. These things bring fulfillment. Research suggests that active use of social media is actually productive for mental health, decreasing mental illness symptoms by 15%. In contrast, passive use increases depressive symptoms by 33%. Passive use includes mindless scrolling with no genuine purpose which leads to discouragement and isolation. When we cross the line between proactive and passive use of our screen time, we risk losing the opportunity to engage intentionally with our children.
Balancing Screen Time with Quality Time
While the debate about the usefulness of screen time varies, a survey of parents showed that 80 percent believed their relationship with their children would benefit if everyone spent less time on devices. Many of us could agree that too often we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through feeds, going down various rabbit holes with no genuine purpose. The question we can ask ourselves is, Why am I reaching for my phone? Is it simply out of habit? Taking a moment to pause allows us to recognize the why behind our actions and gives us a chance to change the outcome.
Children sense the unavailable parent when a screen is in front of them. A study at Michigan State found that “Distracted parenting has been found to have an impact on children’s social and emotional development. Infants, for example, look to their caregivers’ faces, and eyes in particular, for social cues. When the caregivers’ eyes are focused on their phone, the infant is not receiving those cues.” To say that you will never be seen with your phone in front of your child is probably false. But practicing wise use of screens now will not only give you more quality time with your child but help you model healthy use of technology.
Here are 5 ways to gradually develop a healthier approach to screen time as a parent:
● Being active instead of passive
● Being purposeful and mindful of emotions
● Being smart about sleep
● Limiting social comparisons
● Using social media less as a show and more to connect with others
If we can find a way to use screens as tools rather than background noise entertainment, we will be better fit to teach our children the skills necessary to navigate technology healthily. Our relationships with others will be richer because we prioritized face-to-face interactions.