6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Stop Texting and Talk with You
Reintroducing your child to the merits of human contact
Are we ignoring our kids in favor of our smartphones?
Smartphones, tablets and computers are robbing even firstborn children — who are typically cooed over with abandon — of undivided parental attention, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist Sherry Turkle, PhD, author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.”
In fact, says Turkle, who has been studying our relationship with technology for over 30 years, parents’ attention is divided from the moment the baby is born.
By being glued to their smartphones, parents have unwittingly set the stage for their kids to grow into teens who text non-stop, avoid conversation with them and talk with family members — if at all — while multitasking on their phone.
Parents: We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Putting down your devices — and encouraging your kids to put down theirs — opens the door to better communication. It may even make your children more empathetic, says Turkle. Why? Online conversations fail to foster empathy and deep human connection, but face-to-face conversations do, she says. In a meta-study of college students from 1979 to 2009, researchers found that empathy among students today had dropped by 40 percent. And if they’re Millennials, they do most of their communicating by text instead of by phone or in person.
So what do we do to reclaim conversation with our kids? In an interview with SafeBee, Turkle shares these ideas.
Give your kids your undivided attention. That means putting away your smartphone while you talk with them. Researchers have found that around the world, babies develop a back and forth non-language conversation by the time they are 11 months of age. Turkle says that it is during these early “dialogues” that babies and children learn that they are worth listening to. “Family conversations are the training ground for empathy,” Turkle says. “If kids don’t use the part of their brain stimulated by conversing with an attentive parent, they will fail to develop the brain circuitry for this skill. In my work with families, I found over and over again that children are craving, just craving, undivided attention from their parents. And they are just not getting it.”
Create tech-free zones. “I like to tell parents to make breakfast, dinner and the car technology-free spaces and times,” says Turkle. “Kids may resist at first, but deep down they like the predictability of it, the stability. They will slowly learn that they can count on being heard and attended to during these ‘sacred’ times. It also teaches children that part of our life can be closed and protected, and a place where you don’t have to only present your ‘best self.’” It also makes for deeper conversation: One recent study found that a surefire way to reduce intimacy in any conversation is to take a smartphone out and put it in view so that both conversers are aware it's there.
Help kids accept imperfection. Conversations are messy and imperfect. Turkle found that the idea of a curated “best self” that we present on social media is becoming ubiquitous. Avoid encouraging that kind of perfection, she says. “Kids need to be okay with presenting their vulnerable side.”
Wean yourself from your smartphone during outdoor kid time. “I find it so sad to see parents at the park or sports games with their kids, looking down on their phone while their kids are obviously so eager for their parents to pay attention to them,” says Turkle. “If you can’t sit and watch your son on the jungle gym for two hours without using your phone, go for only 30 minutes and don’t look at your phone once.”
Fight in person, not by phone or text. In her research, Turkle found that an “alarming” number of families use text or emails to carry on arguments. “I take a hard stance on this," says Turkle. “Tell your kids, 'We don’t fight that way in this family. We need to see each other fully and feel the other person’s presence in order to understand each other.’”
Related: 4 Ways to Argue More Fairly
Let your child embrace boredom (yes, boredom). "Childhood boredom is one of the most important things you can give your child,” says Turkle. “Boredom is a driver. It builds up inner emotional resources,” she says. “Both boredom and solitude teach children to be resourceful; they encourage wandering minds and creativity. It is how we learn to trust our imagination. And it will help them learn to listen. We really need to listen to each other, even the boring bits. It is often during those boring times in a conversation, when we hesitate or stutter or fall silent, that we reveal ourselves to each other."