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Special Report: Social media distracts parents from their kids

Updated: Wednesday, February 5 2014, 09:54 PM MST
Special Report: Social media distracts parents from their kids story image

By Crystal Price
EL PASO, Texas -- On a typical day at Veterans Park in northeast El Paso, families are out taking advantage of the February sunshine.

While the kids are playing on slides and monkey bars, parents are playing as well -- but not all of them are playing with their kids.

Instead, some parents have their eyes glued to the latest posting on Facebook's newsfeed.

"I use my phone a lot, checking Facebook," said Kristina Dennis, a mother of five from northeast El Paso.

Dennis admits that checking her Facebook news feed can be addicting.

"I'll get into that topic or that subscription of that Facebook page and either I'll be hooked or I'll let it go," Dennis said.

But sometimes Dennis said she doesn't realize how much time Facebook is taking her away from her kids.

"Sometimes in the evening when they want to do something and I'm reading a really good article or something like that, I'm like, ‘OK, hold on, OK, hold on,'" Dennis said.

Although playing on Facebook or Twitter may seem harmless, psychologists say it could lead to something called "distracted parenting" in the digital age.

Dr. Steve Johnson is an associate professor of guidance counseling at the University of Texas-El Paso.

Johnson said there is no doubt parents are turning away from their kids and toward social media as an escape.

"I think there's a temptation sometimes for parents to want to seek some kind of personal interaction with people, other than the ones they have under the roof," Johnson said.

Although checking social media may be a normal habit for parents in this digital age, Johnson says parents need to be careful.

He added that paying too much attention to social media and less attention to your kids could have a long-term negative impact on your child.

If parents don’t give eye-to-eye contact to their kids, their children will have a difficult time reading other people's emotions and understanding them socially.

"Our primary way we relate to others is rooted in the care and interaction we get when we are infants," Johnson said. "The kind of care we receive will affect the way we relate to others."

Johnson added that if parents give kids a distracted form of attention by staying on their phones while talking to their kids, then it becomes a behavioral pattern.

The associate professor said the kids will turn around and treat other people that same way.

"If our parents tended to neglect us by shooing us away, we're going to follow that habit without realizing it, even though we don't intend to," Johnson said.

Johnson urges parents to remember four things when it comes to avoiding digital distractions.

First, Johnson said parents should spend face-to-face time with their kids so they can give them their undivided attention.

"There's a legacy that runs through every family and it's based upon that interaction," Johnson said.

Second, Johnson said parents should turn off their cellphones when their kids are around.

"One of the things that I think is important is if your child is asking for your attention, give it to them," Johnson said. "Stop what you're doing and attend to them."

Third, Johnson said it is important for parents to balance their media use.

Finally, set aside special dinner time, with no phones and no social media.

"If you keep those things in mind, it's going to by its very nature, limit the time you're doing other things, like being online," Johnson said.

As for Dennis, she may love Facebook, but there's something else she said she loves more.

"They're this size for a very short time and I want to experience all of it," Dennis said. "I want to experience it through their eyes. It's doing it over again and experiencing it through their eyes."

Here are some tips for parents that will help parents balance their time online:

•    Set time limits. Determine the appropriate amount of online time.
    o    Stick to it; ignore your blog, email, or Twitter until those magic times

•    Limit multi-tasking.
    o    Try not to spend time on Facebook or Twitter when taking care of your kids. Set  aside time to do that when they are not around.

•    Turn off notification sounds on your phone
    o    By turning off that “ding” sound, you’ll only check your social media accounts when is convenient for you.

•    Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning.
    o    Checking your social media accounts first thing in the morning will pull you in a dozen different directions as you check every new post, message, and notification. This could cause you to spend more time online than you planned.

•    Block yourself. Install programs that limit the time you spend on social media.
    o    Rescue Me, Limit Please, and Facebook Limiter are websites that can block you from social media websites and prevent you from wasting time online.

Special Report: Social media distracts parents from their kids
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