There is often much said about the use of devices in the media, and there have been a number of studies looking at the impact on the use of devices in children, from how old children should be before they should use a device, to how much time they should spend on devices, to how use of social media affects their mental wellbeing. The conclusions of these studies often suggest that limiting use of devices is a good thing, although I did read one study not long ago that suggested that it didn't actually matter how long a child is on a device.
As a result of all this attention on our children's use of devices and access to social media, there are have been a number of initiatives introduced all over the world to try and address some of the effects of overuse of devices. I'm sure you don't need me to list them here - there will be initiatives in your child's school or pre-school, in the local leisure centres, in your local community - all set up to encourage children to get outside more, and to actively engage with other children more often.
As a Speech and Language Therapist I have mixed feelings about the use of devices. There are some very good apps to support speech and language development - some of which I have used in therapy sessions. But there is always the danger that in regularly and frequently using a device, a child is very much in isolation from their peers and does not communicate with others as often as they might.
Having said all of this, this is not what I really want to talk about today, although there is much to be said on the subject.
What I want to talk about is the overuse of devices by adults. Yes, that means you!
I frequent schools regularly, both as a professional and as a parent. I observe parents on their phones while waiting for their children or when dropping their children off. Nothing wrong in that I guess. However, when the parent does not stop using their device when collecting their child, and completely ignores their child, then there is a BIG problem.
1. The parent is showing their child where their priorities lie - and it's not with their child.
By continuing to use a device when collecting your child from school, you give out the message that your child is really not that important and that collecting them is just another job to fit in.
2. The parent has taken away an ideal opportunity for communication with their child.
When a child comes out of school they are often keen to tell you something about what has happened during their day when you are not there, especially when they are young. This is a perfect time to interact with your child and talk about things that are interesting to them. Children learn social skills through experience so if you take away these opportunities it will impact on your child's behaviour.
Some of the schools I have been in have had initiatives such as 'Greet your child with a smile not a phone!' posters, and I have also known pre-school teachers that have not released children at the end of the day until they can see that the child's parent is not using their phone.
I'm sure we are familiar with the image of a family all on their devices and not communicating with each other at all. Our family is guilty of this as much as any other, and sometimes it shocks me how much time we have all been in the same room and have not shared a single word with each other! While this may be acceptable for short spaces of time (as we all need some downtime) but when this becomes the norm then again, there is a problem. How can children learn to communicate effectively when there are few or no opportunities to interact with other human beings in the real world?!
Images have been going around social media for some time that show groups of children and adults in all different social situations, all on their mobiles or tablets. This always horrifies me, although I know it is increasingly the reality of our society. But what impact does this have on communication? Well, a lot actually. As humans we are designed to interact and communicate with each other. When we are choosing to interact only through our phones, tablets or other devices we lose this, which can then lead to a sense of isolation, and a false view of friendship and relationship.
So, what can we do? Here are few challenges for you to take away:
1. Put away your phone when collecting your child from school. Greet them with pleasure, eye contact and a smile. Talk to them about their day as you walk home, or to your car. Take delight in what they want to tell you.
2. At home, have dedicated family time where devices are banned. This could be family meal times or choosing to play a board game together. Make an effort to talk to each other.
3. When you are out and about put your phone away. Have it on silent so that you are not distracted by notifications. Make a conscious effort to make conversation with those you are with. If you are with your children, talk about what you can see and hear. Make up stories with them about your environment.