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Parents often have to be on their A-game when it comes to multitasking for the family. Between scheduling appointments, juggling work and personal demands, or dozens of other tasks that add up on the to-do list, it’s no mystery as to why we turn to digital tools, like our phones, to help get the job done.  

In fact, a person on average uses their phone nearly 100 times per day. We often hear about the importance of limiting screen time for kids, but studies show parents need to be just as mindful of their own usage and smartphone habits.

With apps, resources and information conveniently available at our fingertips, scrolling on a smartphone can appear to be purposeful or just like any other normal, harmless habit. However, it could be affecting your children more than you realize. Be mindful of the following three areas next time you feel inclined to reach for your phone during family time.

Is my smartphone a distraction?

When a child sees their parent continuously distracted and pulled away from the present moment on their smartphone, they might feel the urge to compete with the phone for their parent’s attention. This can cause a child to act out more than usual, often with negative behavior, in an attempt to be noticed and direct their parent’s focus back to them.

This starts a problematic cycle of a child acting out, their parent getting angry or stressed, the child being avoidant, the parent going back to their phone and the cycle repeating again.

Also, when a parent’s attention is split between their phone and child, it can impair situational awareness and reaction time to potential dangers that might put the child in harm’s way.

Reassure your child that they, and their safety, are your top priority by limiting distractions and putting your phone away for quality, one-on-one time together.

Do my smartphone habits affect my kids’ communication skills?

The interactions that parents have with their children are crucial for verbal and non-verbal communication development, including learning manners, making eye contact, reading facial expressions and emotions, carrying a conversation and other important social skills that children only adopt by observation.

But when these interactions are routinely interrupted by technology, there are less conversations and opportunities for non-verbal exchanges happening. Simply put, the more we’re connected to our phones, the more we miss out on connecting with our kids.

Parents have the biggest role in helping their kids establish healthy communication habits by modeling proper social etiquette, mitigating disruptions and giving undivided attention during conversations.

How can I set a good example?

Kids will naturally mirror the behaviors of their parents; therefore, establishing appropriate boundaries around screen time and smartphone usage starts with the examples demonstrated at home.

Living in a day and age where our lives are so interconnected to technology makes it unrealistic to never use smartphones around our children. But being more conscious of when and how often we use our smartphones helps limit its influence on those around us and displays healthy, balanced habits for our kids to follow.

Looking for more information on screen time tips for the entire family? Listen to Jeff Reiland, Gundersen Health System Behavioral Health therapist, on his Parenting Tips Podcast!

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