4 Steps to Cultivating Strong Parent-Child Bonds in the Digital Age

Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019
by Brenda Haas, LMSW, Ed.M.

Electronic addiction is increasingly becoming an area of concern. A recent study conducted by the Center for Humane Technology found that people check their phones more than 150 times per day. Digital devices and distractions consume our time, influence our communication, affect our sleeping patterns, and impact our relationships and mood. The “ping” on our smartphone, alerting us to incoming texts, news flashes, and “likes” on our social media feeds, have become the background music of our lives. The effect on children who are growing up in such tech-focused environments is a matter worthy of attention by all parents. Are you a family who eats together at a restaurant, but your necks are turned down as you check your devices? Are texts with your kids replacing face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversations?

Sherry Turkle Ph.D., a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has studied digital culture for three decades and identified a disturbing consequence of overdependence on technology as a flight from conversation everywhere. In our screen-saturated world, children and parents are left to compete for each other’s attention. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she argues it is imperative to protect our relationships and reconnect in conversation, face-to-face.

We need to keep in mind that conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do. When we give ourselves and our children the space for conversation, we create an opportunity to engage authentically, collaborate on problem solving, and develop and show empathy. Child development research has proven that parents are the pivotal models of healthy communication and behavior.

Screens and technology are in our landscape to stay. But how do we make sure that our in-person communication is not hijacked by tech devices that end up making us feel distanced and disconnected from others?

  1. Unplug. We can strengthen and support children by creating tech-free times and zones. Setting healthy limits on screen time and device use, for all family members, helps protect our children’s emotional and physical health, relationships, decreases stress and anxiety, and can improve sleep.
  2. Discuss tech-dependence and the importance of in-person communication. It’s important to explain to your children that electronic conversations cannot replace in-person contact. Point out that mindful listening, paying attention without distraction, and sharing one’s thoughts and experiences verbally can begin at the dinner table, be demonstrated while working on puzzles together, and taking a walk.
  3. Model moderation. We can put away our smart-phones, close our laptops, and prioritize the value of eye contact, play, humor, and deeper relationships. By doing this, we enhance self-regulation, patience, and respect for family and tech rules.
  4. Engage in meaningful conversation and story-telling. This fosters our children’s identity development, self-compassion, and confidence. It helps validate their experiences, in person, in real time.

Being fully present with our children demonstrates care and consistency, nurtures curiosity, builds healthy social and emotional development, and increases joy, gratitude, and connection.

Brenda P. Haas, LMSW, Ed.M. is Coordinator of Guiding Parents Through Services (GPS) and a Partners in Schools Consultant at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester for WJCS. A version of this article was first published in Westchester Jewish Life and is published on wjcs.com with the permission of the Westchester Jewish Life publisher.


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