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How Changing a Few Simple Cel Phone Habits Can Save Your Child’s Life

It may save the relationship between you and your child. And that's only the beginning.

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As a proud father to three little ones, I want to be the best possible dad I can be. Like most Americans in 2020, I also use a smartphone.

I don’t believe these two statements are mutually exclusive.

But I’m starting to wonder if I’m right.

There was outrage around the world over a surveillance video filmed that captures the horrific scene of a toddler getting crushed by a slow-moving S.U.V. The mother, just a few feet behind her daughter, appears to be distracted by her phone.

A number of commenters on social media responded to this tragedy by hurling accusations at the mother. But as I read this story, I found it evoked a different response.

I couldn’t help but ask:

Could this have happened to me?

Technology, Communication and Parenting

I have no shame admitting that I’m the world’s worst multi-tasker. Already some time ago, I made a determined effort to never check my phone while driving.

Yet, I still catch myself sending emails or checking social media while trying to take care of my kids.

Research says I’m not alone. Just a few days ago, The Science Daily reported on a study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System, which concluded that “parents’ use of mobile technology around young children may be causing internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with their kids.”

“Parents are constantly feeling like they are in more than one place at once while parenting,” said Jenny Radesky, M.D. Radesky, a child behavior expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, who led the study with colleagues from Boston Medical Center.

“They’re still ‘at work.’ They’re keeping up socially. All while trying to cook dinner and attend to their kids.”

She continues:

“Technology has transformed the way parents use digital media around their children. Compared to traditional distractions like books, mobile technology is described as much more commanding of attention that is unpredictable and requires a greater emotional investment.

“Kids require a lot of different types of thinking, so multitasking between them and technology can be emotionally and mentally draining.”

Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, saw evidence of this in research she conducted for her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. As NPR reports, Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18, asking them about their parents’ mobile device habits.

She says the words children frequently used included “sad, mad, angry and lonely.” One girl reportedly said: “I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, anytime–even on the ski lift!”

Not surprisingly, children joyfully related stories of hiding their parents’ phones, putting them in the oven, or even throwing them in the toilet.

Reading these stories and research–and considering last month’s tragedy–have inspired me to take a closer look at my own habits. Why should I short-change my children when it comes to giving them my attention, as if they aren’t the most important thing in my life?

I encourage you to ponder this issue. Discuss it with your spouse, significant other, friends and family.

Most importantly, talk about it with your kids. Because it may not only save the relationship between you and your child…

It may end up saving their life, too.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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