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Research: Kids Feel Neglected If Parents Hooked On Smartphones

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Parents are well aware of the downside of kids spending too much time on their electronic devices texting or playing games. But what about the negative effects of parents doing the same thing?

New research shows that kids are very aware of how much time their parents are spending on their smartphones when they are with them. Experts say it has kids feeling angry and sad.

“It is difficult when a parent is not present in a child’s life. It is more difficult if the parent is present, but not really present,” said Dr. Cheryl Bemel, a psychologist at the Allina Health Clinic in West St. Paul. “In other words, if they are there but not emotionally there, that is even more hurtful to a child because they are being ignored. … The child feels, ‘I don’t count, I don’t matter. I’m not good enough.’ Those are the messages the parent is giving them non-verbally by looking to their devices.”

Dr. Catherine Steinar-Adair, a psychologist from Harvard Medical School, has written a book about the problem called “The Big Disconnect.” In it, she shares what children have told her.

“My mom is always on her iPad at dinner. She’s always ‘just checking,'” 7-year-old Tyler said.

“They’re not like even talking to me, they are just ignoring me,” Ava, also 7 years old, said.

The most troubling impact of children feeling ignored by their parents, even when they are home with them, is the damage done to their self-esteem. That feeling of not being good enough or interesting enough or smart enough can then affect their relationships with their friends and their teachers.

Bemel said that, as parents, there are some who are “being naughty. There is some mischief there that we could clean up pretty easily. It really just takes awareness.”

The solution, experts say, is as simple as making a conscious effort to put that phone away during the limited time you have with your child.

“The number one reinforcer is the parents’ attention. They will do anything to get that. That comes before any item,” Bemel said.

So why do we find our phones and computers so addictive? Bemel says it’s just that human need for instant gratification, the need to know what other people think of us. There’s also an instinctive need to know what’s next, what’s coming, what’s waiting for us.

But remember, our kids are watching and even if they don’t say something, they be hurt by our lack of attention.

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