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Stage of Life Feature Article

Texting in front of your kidsThe Negative Effects of Texting on Your Ability to Parent

Put Your Phone Down

Editorial by Stage of Life CEO, Eric Thiegs
A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took our daughters to the Dallastown Carnival.  [Dallastown is a small town community in south central, Pennsylvania].
This event is special for my family, and especially for my five year old, due to the fact that we live a stone's throw from where the carnival takes residence for the week.  We see the flashing lights of Ferris Wheel from our bedroom windows. We hear the laughter from teenagers as they ride the Zipper. We smell the funnel cakes, corn dogs, and soft shell crab sandwiches.  And best of all, we sit on our front porch after the sun goes down and listen to the bluegrass bands play into the night.
Living so close, we go to the carnival every night.  This has created traditions for us.  We always play games of chance.  We always visit the Fun House.  And we always buy something from the Recreation Board fundraiser while I sneak over to purchase a pulled-pork sandwhich from the Brock's BBQ stand.
However, the most important part of this tradition is the simplest pleasure of all...spending uninterrupted time with my wife and two daughters.  In fact, this year, I made a point to leave my mobile phone at home while visiting the carnival.  I figure, I'm with my girls, the most important people in the world, so anyone that wants to get a hold of me can wait.  I'm here to make memories.
Not all parents have this same mindset.
Texting Instead of Parenting
This year I noticed a large number of parents preoccupied with their mobile phones while at the carnival with their kids.  I saw dozens parents sitting directly beside their pre-school children on various carnival rides, but rather than of holding their child's hand, they instead clutched their cell phones.
The first time I saw this was from a Dad riding the train with his son.  The father spent the entire ride, all four minutes, texting while the train ran in circles with his son sitting at his side.  The guy didn't look at his son...once.  The little boy, though, looked up twice with a big smile on his face, only to see his father completely disengaged.
I saw it happen again, 10 minutes later.  A Mom was riding the helicopters with her daughter.  Like the Dad, the Mom didn't look at her daughter once during the ride. Nor hold her. Nor touch her. Or speak to her.  She just texted away as the helicopter spun round and round.
That night, I saw at least a dozen other parents doing the same thing.
America's Evolving Family Values
Kids pick up habits and learn values from a lot of sources.  Their coaches.  Their church leaders.  Their teachers.  But did you know that 95% of the physical time they spend during their formative years is with...their parents.  Unlike other partisan issues, experts from all political spectrums agree that parents establish the values in a family unit from the moment that baby arrives home from the hospital.  
So if America is curious about, “What's happening to family values,” maybe we should be prepared to open a frank conversation with ourselves about how our actions, as parents, are shaping answers to that question.  
Per my observations of dozens of parents ignoring their toddler's smiles for the lure of their iPhone, there is a generation that watches their parents making a choice between technology or them during moments when memories are made - like riding a train with your Dad or flying in a helicopter with your Mom.  Unfortunately, the memories for those children will be filled with images of Mommy and Daddy silently detached as they plick away on their mobile phones.  Smiles going unnoticed.  Questions going unanswered.  Hands remaining unheld.  But texts are going out.
Making the Right Memories
After visiting the carnival and witnessing the distracted parents, I made a personal vow to re-value how we use technology in our home. Yes, technology makes our lives easier, but “returning a text” should never take priority of a moment I have with my daughter.
I don't want my daughter to see me reaching for my cell phone in the morning before I give her a hug.  I don't want a home in which texting is more important than talking.  Or when making memories with your child takes the back seat to multi-tasking.
I think it's time for parents, me included, to realize that we're defining “America's Family Values” everyday, in our own homes, and it might not be such a bad idea to put the cell phones down, look our children in the eyes and say, “Honey, what memory should we make together today?”
Note from author:  If I can get just one parent to reconsider how they use technology as it may relate to their ability to parent, then this piece will have been a success.  --Eric Thiegs

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