Note From Keri Lyn ~ I just wanted to mention how thrilled I am to have Eileen guest posting this series on the blog! Eileen has been a dear friend for several years. She is an amazing mom and honestly THE very funnest person to visit Disneyland with. I love her passion for protecting our kids and families in social media and I am SO thrilled to have her sharing her expertise here weekly with all of us! Some of these topics are not the easiest, but they are definitely very timely and often eye-opening. I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I do!
This post is the tenth post in this series. Make sure to read Eileen’s other posts: How to Talk to Your Kids About Social Media, Questions to Help Start Social Media Conversations with Your Kids and Eileen’s other Smart Parenting articles here.
Smart Parenting: Help Kids Avoid Social Media Distraction
A few weeks ago I wrote about attending a sporting event with my family and not letting my son play games on or use my cell phone. I said, “My phone is a tool not a toy” and another parent asked how that was working out for me.
This got me thinking about the expectations we set for our kids and their use of technology and I shared more about this here.
At this same game, I walked around the field where the teams were playing. At one end of the field there’s a sloping hill with a flat area in front of it where kids hang out, throw or kick a ball around, and just be kids.
But instead of the usual activity at this area of the arena, I noticed something strange.
Maybe it was because I was thinking about telling my boys they couldn’t use my phone, or maybe I was just in the right mindset to tune in and observe this particular group of kids. I’m not sure why this stuck out at me on this day.
As I walked by this hill I looked up to see what was happening on it. There were about thirty or so middle-schoolers sitting on the hill, all facing the field where the game was being played, but not one was watching the game or talking to anyone.
Every single teenager sitting in that section had their eyes fixed on their phone. Or they were looking at their friend’s phone next to them.
I wanted to take a photo but I decided I’d just keep a mental image for myself. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It seemed so strange to see the entire group engrossed in the online world, collectively, and individually.
It seemed like there should have been a posted sign saying “Cell Phone Section” like there used to be signs that said “Smoking Section.”
It took a tremendous amount of self-control for me not to approach the group and ask them what they were looking at. I wanted to know -were they on snap? Instagram? Were they all looking at the same thing? All different things? Posts from the game? Posts from each other? Were they texting each other instead of just talking? I WANTED TO KNOW!
In front of this cell-phone-group, other kids were throwing a football around and kicking a soccer ball. They were yelling at each other, jumping on each other, tackling each other. They were loud.
The kids sitting on the hill didn’t pay any attention to what was going on right in front of them. They just stayed focused on their phones.
Finally, something exciting happened in the game and the entire place erupted with cheers. THIS got most of the group of kids to look up from their phones, look around them, and take notice of what was happening in the real world. And then they looked back at their phones again.
Admit it. You’ve behaved this way, too. I know I have! I get googling on something or engrossed in my twitter feed or find a post that leads me to another, and another and suddenly thirty minutes have passed and my bus exit was ten minutes ago.
So what’s the big deal? If this happens sometimes, it’s not too big of a deal. If your teen (or you) CAN’T pull away from a phone, it’s time to make some changes.
But change is hard! And what you’re battling against is basic brain function and human behaviors that apps and video games use in their design to hook you.
Yes. You’re battling against your brain and coders and app developers make their living by making you lose the battle.
So what do you do? How can we help our kids with this? How do we help ourselves?
Model putting your cell phone down when people want to talk with you. Force yourself to take a break from the video game that sucks you in. Set a timer for fifteen, twenty, any number of minutes and when it goes off, move away from your phone. Tell your kids that games and apps are designed to hook them in to playing for long periods of time to try to get them to spend money or see advertising. Help them be smart about their media consumption and be smart yourself.
In my community, we have public service announcements to remind people to pay attention to traffic when they cross the street instead of looking at their cell phones. We’ve had enough incidents on our streets to warrant these commercials and I think this is incredibly alarming.
Look up! Pay attention! Watch where you’re going!
Did you see the viral video of the woman so engrossed in her phone that she fell into the fountain in the mall? Me too. Poor lady! And then I heard she tried to sue the mall because she fell! I don’t know if the legal situation really happened, but I sure saw this woman take a tumble. I know that was real.
Help your kids to be aware of their surroundings and be alert. Teach them about the brain activity involved when using apps (I’ll write about it in a future post.). Give your kids every opportunity to have the world around them be so enthralling they can’t help but look up when everyone else stops to cheer! Even better -help your kids create the situations causing the crowd or group to erupt in noise and group activity.
We all will be better for it.
Connect with Eileen
Like what you’re reading here? Eileen writes how she talks and she teaches how she talks and writes. You can hire her to teach parenting classes and perform assemblies for your school and she would love to help your community. Be sure to check out her website for more information.