Are Your Devices Keeping You From Your Kids?

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Working from home can be difficult under the best circumstances. For parents, trying to meet your work responsibilities while also attending to your kids can be especially difficult.

Maybe you ignore or dismiss your child during a Zoom meeting. Or maybe you prop them in front of the television so you can address an important email. No matter how you're using your digital devices during the coronavirus pandemic, it's likely that your child is watching and absorbing it.

Get Smart About Digital Device Use

Even before the pandemic, parenting in today’s digitally driven society was challenging. Most of us rely on our smartphones, tablets and laptops not only to field work calls and emails, but also to access our calendars, stay in touch with friends, and even do research, shop, get the news, etc. The trouble is, our devices can act as a sort of barrier for quality interactions with our kids.

  1. Establish boundaries: If you place boundaries around your work, you'll be more productive. If you have to work, be clear about how long you'll be unavailable to your children — and make sure to return to their orbit when you say you will. It's a good idea to sit down with your family and set limits around smartphone and computer use, too. You might agree to set phones aside during mealtimes, for example, or decide on a two-hour block during the day when you close your laptop. Whatever you decide, it's important to communicate those limits to your children and stick to them.
  2. Block your time: Working in time blocks can be a remarkably effective way to get things done. If you and your partner are both working from home and have some flexibility, maybe one of you takes the morning hours to focus on your children and the other takes the afternoon. When you're on duty with the kids, leave your devices in another room. Don't have a partner to share childcare responsibilities? Try to take frequent breaks to focus exclusively on your kiddos.
  3. Use screens wisely: If you have an important call or need to focus on incoming emails, it's okay to allow your child to watch one or two 30-minute shows while you're working. When you're finished with your work tasks, set your phone aside and spend your time exclusively with them.
  4. Use a timer: Use your smartphone's timer as a tool. If you don't have a ton of time to play with your children, set the timer for 15 minutes and put your phone aside so your focus isn't divided. You can even set your alarm for 12 minutes so you can give your child a 3-minute warning before the ultimate stopping point. That way you can enjoy your time with your kids without constantly checking the clock.
  5. Try not to multitask: When you decide to work, focus exclusively on work. When you decide to spend time with your child, don't divide your attention with work-related emails and messages. Put your phone in airplane mode or turn off your notifications. The problem with notifications is that once you click on one link, you get sucked in and can lose track of time.

Toward Healthier Interactions

Most of us have become so reliant on our phones and computers that we don't feel comfortable without them. The problem is, when you're using a digital device, you're slower to respond to your children. Small children thrive on attention and their social and emotional development requires that. What's more, when you divide your attention between your device and your kid, you're not modeling healthy communication.

Establish rules around cell phone, computer and social media use and make sure your children hold you accountable. If they see you texting during dinner, for example, give them permission to call you out. Most important, don't let your device rob you of really being present in your life. Ask your child if there's one special thing they would like to do with you. Then, make sure you follow through by doing that special thing during a break or in the evening. That way, your child has something to look forward to — it may even encourage good behavior during your working hours.


Want more health and wellness advice? Subscribe to our newsletter to get all the latest tips. To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness for Henry Ford LiveWell. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in midtown Detroit and Sterling Heights. Learn more about Dr. Leatherwood Cannon.

Categories: ParentWell