I recently found myself in a nearby school. By the entrance was a sign asking parents not to use their mobile phones in front of the children.
I thought this was fantastic. If you’ve ever done the school run, you’ll be familiar with the sight of mums and dads faffing about with smart phones.
I don’t think this behaviour sends the best message to our kids. I thought I’d speak to author and ITV parenting expert Sue Atkins for her opinion and to see what impact she thought it had on kids to have parents who are wired to the web 24/7 (You will find Sue’s website here).
Before that, however, a little background. When I saw that fantastic notice pinned on the wall of the school, I also felt a pang of guilt. I can’t deny that when hanging around in the playground, waiting for Helen to finish playing with her friends at the end of the school day, I would often answer a few emails, send a few text messages and so on.
While I admit I’m not perfect, I’ve witnessed much worse. Last week Helen went to an after school activity and for an entire hour I waited outside the school hall. During that time, one of the mums spent every minute on her smart phone, her younger child next to her playing with an iPad. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but it didn’t sit easily with me.
I’m sure many of us have seen the Joey Salads video that was doing the rounds on Facebook the other week. If you haven’t, Salads, a well-known YouTube prankster, pretended to abduct a child from a play park while his father was distracted by his mobile phone.
This particular stunt took place with the full consent of the mother because she was fed up with the dad’s habit of paying more attention to his phone than his kid. I don’t approve of such things and felt the description of it being a “social experiment” was weak.
In my opinion, it was a cheap way to gain YouTube views. Even so, the sight of a lone parent, sat on a bench in a park with their shoulders hunched, staring at a phone while their kids play is all too common.
We can’t ignore technology because it is such a major part of our lives. Shouldn’t we, as parents, be much better at managing it?
What Sue Atkins said
The first point Sue makes is that our own behaviour is a major influence on our kids. She said:
“We are role models in everything we do and say. If an old woman cuts us up on a roundabout and we say ‘silly old woman shouldn’t be driving’ we are not teaching tolerance. If kids see us on tech 24/7 we cannot say to them that they’re spending too much time on it.”
Sue went further still, stressing that parents, distracted by technology, are putting their offspring in genuine physical danger. She said it wasn’t unheard of for mums and dads to push prams into the road while using phones. Sue said this is a complaint she often hears from taxi drivers.
And what of children seeing mum and dad engrossed on their mobile devices all the time? What impact does it have on them? Sue gives a great example of how times have changed, and not for the best.
“I see mums in the playground [I’m sure Sue meant dads too!]. They’ve not seen their children all day and what happens? They run out to them at the end of the day and they’re on their on their phones.
“I remember when my dad use to turn up to collect me, he always used to come on a Wednesday, I’d look out for his old banger and he’d be there with his arms outstretched.”
So how does a parent recognise they have a problem? At this point Sue is remarkably candid. She confides that she had to stop herself from using wireless devices at night time as it was disturbing her sleep.
With her confession made, she remarked: “If you’re getting short tempered, jittery checking your phone last ting at night or first thing in the morning, I’d say you had a problem.
“Try going cold turkey or charging your phone downstairs. Do you really need to be on Instagram 24/7?
Sue ends by saying: “Parents should be role models in how they use technology.
Changing my own behaviour
Having seen that sign in the nearby school, I have changed my own behaviour. I’ve made a conscious decision to either leave my phone in the car or not take it at all when on the school run.
I know my behaviour wasn’t that bad, but I knew I could do better. Sue is absolutely right, I should be a role model in how I use tech and that applies to any parent.
What do you think about mums and dads using technology around their kids? Is it a major problem? Do you see it happening too much? Have you ever witnessed a distracted mum or dad pushing a pram into the road? Please do leave a comment below with your thoughts.
You will find Sue Atkins on Twitter and also on Facebook. Word of advice: do wait until the kids are in bed or at school before you check Sue’s social media channels. They don’t need to see you using social media when you could be spending time with them, do they?