I’ve done it (cringe). Taken phone calls while my son is telling me how great his day was, or checked emails when I’m meant to spending special bonding time together. But, admittedly, I never gave too much thought to how my relationship with my phone was affecting my relationship with my son. Until now. A global study conducted by AVG Technologies of 6,117, including 335 Australian adults and 302 children revealed the alarming way in which mobile phones are coming between parents and kids, to the detriment of both. “With our kids picking up mobile devices at an increasingly younger age, it is really important that we set good habits within the home, early on,” said Michael McKinnon, Security Awareness Director at AVG Technologies. “Children take their cues from us for everything else, so it is only natural that they should do the same with device use. It can be hard to step away from your device at home, but with a quarter of parents telling us that they wished their child used their device less (26%), they need to lead by example and consider how their behaviour might be making their child feel.” Check out these common parental phone behaviours, how the children surveyed felt and the solutions to ‘switch off’ off these bonding saboteurs…
#1 Getting distracted by your mobile device when you’re talking to your child
Gone are the days when work finishes at 5.30pm for many – we’re a generation of parents juggling a zillion things and tuned in to our devices while simultaneously asking the kid how their school day was. In fact, a massive 43% of Aussie parents admit to getting distracted by their mobile while talking to their child.
How do children feel? Alarmingly, 26% say it makes them “feel unimportant”. And the kids know their parents behaviour is wrong, with 30% saying they don’t like it because their parents tell them not to do it, while 26% of kids admit their parents behaviour “is not polite”.
Solution: “Admitting to getting distracted while talking to your child isn’t setting a very good example, yet despite this, 55% of Aussie parents in our survey claim they are setting a good example,” explains Michael McKinnon, Security Awareness Director at AVG Technologies. If you’re ‘all talk and no (child-focused) action,’ make a conscious decision to listen to them whole heartedly, or put the phone on silent for five minutes to ensure you’re undiverted attention.
#2 Using or answering your mobile device when you’re watching a TV program with your child
It might seem innocent enough – answering a call while watching Despicable Me for the third time! And really, how different is it being tuned into the TV compared to tuning into your phone call? Well, there’s a big difference to children, it seems. While 35% of Aussie parents admit doing this, the kids are none too impressed.
How your child feels: Spending time cuddling up with your child on the couch – even if you’re both hypnotised by the Minions – can be a unique bonding time children value. “Watching a TV program with your child but getting distracted by your mobile device is clearly interrupting quality time, and surprisingly children are lamenting at their parent missing out on a fun activity,” explains Michael. The survey revealed that 23% of children surveyed don’t like it, citing they’d prefer to spend quality time together (40%). Worryingly, 14% of kids admitted it “makes me feel I am not important.”
Solution: It’s easy to say ‘switch the phone off’, and for some parents that may be the simple solution. But if that isn’t an option, being mindful of the effects on children is the first step. Think about strategies that will work for you and your family situation. If you’re waiting for a call to pick up a sibling from a friend’s house, switch your phone to vibrate, or explain to your mini Minion so they understand why some calls are important – then ignore the unimportant calls.
#3 Using or answering your mobile device when you are outside playing together with your child
“Playing outside is clearly a fun activity and stepping out in the fresh air with your child should be the epitome of spending quality time together away from devices and technology,” says Michael. “But as our research has shown both of these are easily sacrificed by the mobile device distraction in this setting with nearly a quarter of Aussie parents (25%) admitting to the bad habit.”
How your child feels: Think about those magical family moments – you know, when you’re pushing your child on the swing/skating on the ice rink/teaching your child to kick a footy and end up spending a chunk of that time answering calls, rather than enjoying the time together… Kids notice, with 15% of children admitting they want their parent to do it less, and 35% citing they’d prefer to spend quality time together. Again, a massive 23% of those preferring their parents did it less, cited that it makes them feel they are not important, while 28% said it was because their parent was missing out on a fun activity.
Solution: no parent wants their child to feel unimportant, so make a conscious effort to be present in the moment, and make wise decisions when the phone rings. Can you call the person back later?
#4 Using or answering your mobile device at the dinner table during a meal
It seems many families have uninvited guests at the dinner table – with 21% of Aussie parents admitting to answering their phone during the meals. Some parents have no issue with this, but if it is important that meal times are focused on family bonding, then you need to put a lid on this pressure cooker.
How your child feels: Kids are smart cookies. They know what sacred times are, the definition of a hypocrite and well, downright bad manners. The survey revealed 15% of children want their parent to do this less because they value spending quality time together (35%), while 30% cited “because they tell me not to do it”, and 17% said it was not polite. See, they have been listening!
Solution: “Device free dinners are something that 21% of the parents admitted wasn’t something they could do,” reveals Michael. “Yet children affected clearly saw this as yet another intrusion on what would otherwise be quality time spent together.”
If you can’t eat your mash minus the Minecraft App or iPhone, manage the situation so it works for you and your family. In a perfect world kids would be eating their Brussel sprouts and broccoli while recounting their timetables and tales of their wondrous day – but that’s just not a reality for many. Think about the types of values you want to live by, and teach your children, then work on displaying those actions that best reflect them. Perhaps school night dinners are tech-free and weekends a free for all of pizza while having Lego Star Wars battles?
#5 Use or answer your mobile device whilst driving
We all know this is wrong. But it’s incredible the amount of parents doing this – 18% of Aussie parents admitted to it. We won’t even go into the dangers associated for the driver, passengers and other people on the roads…
How your child feels: “It’s great to see that Aussie kids are plainly aware that their parents should not be distracted while driving, but disturbing all the same that 18% of Aussie parents still admit to doing it,” explains Michael. “Take the advice from your children, it’s illegal and nearly a quarter just want to let you know that ‘it isn’t polite’ – I doubt the Police are going to let you off with that sort of warning!”
Solution: Don’t text, answer calls or read pop-up messages ever while driving – and especially with children on board.