Parents Digital Device Use Could Influence Children

Created: 04/21/2014 10:54 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- We hear all kinds of things about the concerns of too much screen time and kids. But a recent study out of Boston shows how parents' use of digital devices may impact their children. We talked with an early childhood family educator, who says it's time for parents to find boundaries when it comes to technology.

Heidi Gallagher has her hands full with three little ones. There's always someone or something needing attention.

"It is hard because I want to be able to reply to everybody,” said Heidi Gallagher of Winona.

Heidi is talking about the emails and texts that can now follow her everywhere on her cellphone. "I feel like I need to be timely, but I need to somehow keep it away from the kids because otherwise they think I’m not playing with them enough or I’m kind of ignoring them,” said Gallagher.

It's a balancing act most parents have to deal with. In a recent study, researchers from Boston Medical Center secretly observed 55 families. They found more than 70% of parents used a mobile device during a meal.

"Little kids now don't recognize their parents without it,” said Katy Smith an early childhood family educator in Winona. She says our brains get into work mode and when we're using digital devices, we're no longer using the nurturing part of our brain.

"We're saying things like ‘sssh, stop it, hey’ and we're so focused here that the kids have to compete quite dramatically than to get our attention,” said Smith.

Whether that leads to bad behavior, Katy says only time will tell. But researchers found face-to-face interactions are the primary way kids learn, and if parent's faces are buried in technology, "I think loudly we say to them this is the most important thing I need to attend to,” said Smith.

Katy says the best thing a parent could do is set guidelines, because moms like Heidi Gallagher, realize just how much these little ones can pick up on.

"I keep my phone on a docking station usually, so that I’m not holding it all day,” said Gallagher. "I don't want them to learn to just ignore us as parents or their siblings,” she said.

Katy Smith gave us some advice. She says she challenges parents to ask themselves, if your child could describe the relationship between you and your phone how would they describe it? She says, the answer can often open your eyes.