Parents

How cell phones are affecting families — and what to do about it

There's often a focus on how to get our kids off their phones and back into the great outdoors. But what about parents?

So many are accustomed to keeping their phones at an arms' reach away, and that behavior is having a profound effect on their kids.

Those effects were made all the more unsettling on TODAY when Jenna Bush Hager spoke with Dr. Jenny S. Radesky, a developmental pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center, who studied parent-child interaction at fast food restaurants. Her findings? More than 70 percent of the adults used their phones during the meal.

"When the child is making bids, the parent would respond in kind of a mechanical way or a delayed way," she told Jenna.

According to a recent study, 54 percent of kids think their parents check their devices too often. And 32 percent say they feel "unimportant" when their parents get distracted by their phones.

Doctor Radensky even sees problematic behaviors in her own life.

"When I have a lot of stuff to do for work or I have an e-mail to respond to, all those little cute approaches and, 'Mom, read to me" and everything, is...it creates more tension."

Mike and Josephine Bourgeoise are one of many couples making changes around their home to combat social media and cell phone distractions. With three children, they had a right to be concerned.

"We've established a rule where during dinner, there's no phone allowed," Michael told TODAY. But the rules aren't really to tame the kids.

As Josephine explained, "We don't wanna miss out on anything with our kids because of devices."

Their son Oliver thinks it's a good idea.

"What does it make you feel like when he's on the phone?" Jenna asked him.

"Mad," said Oliver.

And his word choice is significant. Research shows the impact of a parent's constant-connectivity, with young children often describing their reaction as "sad," "mad," "angry," or "lonely."

So, how can a parent find the right balance? The experts offer the following solutions:

  • Figure out which triggers are most distracting for you.
  • Watch your children's cues constantly, and always acknowledge their basic needs.
  • Schedule specific tech-free family time.
  • Think twice before using a mobile device while you're with your children.
  • Check email before the kids gets up, while they're at school, or after they go to bed.
  • Walk in the door unplugged after work.
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