Pre smartphones, iPads, and other devices, most children easily and naturally learned the art of social communication. Social communication is essential to being a good conversationalist and it actually begins in infancy, that is, before we even learn to talk. Babies learn to take turns through games like peek-a-boo and rolling a ball back and forth. They learn to read another’s non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, gestures, intonation, and body language. Later, they learn to stay on topic during a conversation by listening to the speaker, responding appropriately with a nod or an ‘uh huh’, and saying something relating to the topic.
The relatively recent surge of device use has made our generation as parents the first to face this challenge of having to make that extra effort to actively teach our children social skills. Our children are witnessing us engrossed in our phones while attempting to have a conversation with either our spouse, our children, our own parents, and our friends. In so doing, not only are we modeling a lack of politeness to the speaker, but we are failing to provide sufficient modeling of how a face-to-face conversation should look. Our children are relying on us to teach them these basic social skills as children lacking in such skills can present with social problems, reading problems, and other academic problems. According to a 2015 study in the Journal ofPediatrics, “kids with speech and language impairment have a 4-5 times greater risk of reading trouble in grade school. These problems can follow them into adulthood and poor learners tend to earn lower wages.”
You want me to PUT AWAY MY PHONE?!?!
Of course, it would be unreasonable to ask people to just put away their phones indefinitely. What we can strive for are screen-free times built into the family schedule. As parents, we have to work hard (and it is hard work!) to put our phones away in order to be good role models for our children. Whether we leave our phones in our bedroom, purse, or in a special bowl for everyone to deposit their phones upon entering the house, they should be out of reach to avoid temptation.
Here are some ideas for SCREEN-FREE TIMES:
– mealtimes (both inside the house and out)
– when the family is all together after school or work
– outdoor play, including backyard, park, and swimming pool
– extracurricular activities, such as sports and dance
– family gatherings and functions
– religious services
– birthday parties
How will I ever enjoy a restaurant meal without the iPad?
Bring back play! Keep a mixed bag of toys in the trunk of your car, depending on your children’s interests. This may include a colouring book, crayons, puzzles, travel size games from Dollarama (ex. Connect 4, Snakes & Ladders), a small container of lego, a deck of cards, and some books. Your children can play these games with you and/or their siblings. Nothing will make them happier than having your undivided attention as you play their favourite games. Keep in mind, however, that if they are accustomed to having a screen at the table, this may take some convincing. You can start with “The iPad battery is dead” or “We forgot it at home”. A little white lie for their own good. 🙂
How/When can screens be a good thing?
Kids can learn to ‘earn’ screen time through chores or polite behaviour, to name a few. The screen time can be regulated by setting a timer on the phone or other device. Perhaps it can be used for downtime for 5-10 minutes after school or at the end of the evening. How this is implemented will vary from one family to the next.
THE GOAL IS NOT to prohibit all screen usage, rather to regulate it and bring back quality family time. Remember that little kids grow up to be teenagers. Given that it is already difficult to connect with this ‘breed’, it may prove even more challenging if we have failed to create a family atmosphere that involves interacting with one another the old-fashioned way, that is, talking, looking at each other, laughing together, and maybe even dusting off an old board game or deck of cards.
“Why are so many (Smart!) Kids Missing this Social Skill?” By: Paula Spencer Scott.