Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2013, 2:55 pm
Digital parenting: Are smartphones, tablets the enemy of communication?
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By Liz Strader
On a recent date with my husband to a great place in downtown Davenport which, incidentally, has the most delicious pan-seared Brussels sprouts, I noticed something.
The two of us were sitting across from each other, talking about work, plotting entrepreneurial ways to become millionaires, and, of course,
laughing about the weird and funny things our three little daughters say, when I glanced across the restaurant and saw a family of four sitting in a booth.
On the surface, it looked like a nice, weekend dinner taking place. But as I watched the man in this picture talk to his wife, disgust, disdain, and sadness flooded my heart.
Not only was the woman clearly not paying any attention to her husband, she was multi-tasking and messing around on her smartphone while he talked. She moved her head upwards only once or twice to acknowledge he was still talking to her.
To the sides of both adults were two children, one probably in his tweens or teens, the other a small girl possibly in kindergarten or first grade.
Both, mind you, both kids were deeply engrossed in tablet computers. So, as I tried to break my stare at this sight, I couldn't help but notice that the husband looked utterly defeated and lonely; he was desperately trying to connect for a few minutes with his family but his dinner companions seemed to want nothing more than to sit next to each other in silence. Great example of a "family night," huh?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the childhood obesity rate has tripled in the last three decades.
Seventy percent of obese children between the ages of 5 and 17 have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and, as the popular TV show The Biggest Loser pointed out on Jan. 20, an alarming 75 percent of parents of overweight and obese children think their kids are at a healthy weight.
Our entire country is growing heavier, slower, and communicating less with each other due to a lack of education on nutrition, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and an abundance of portable electronics that allow us to remain motionless and stare at screens for hours at a time.
On an outing to one of the local museums with our daughters, my husband and I both observed the same tuned-out behavior by a sweeping majority of the parents there.
Multiple adults were planted on the benches or leaning against the outer walls of exhibits, while their kids ran all over the museum, dowsed each other in water from a play area, or behaved abhorrently to fellow children.
Now, you might say, "That's not so bad, they took the kids to a museum, after all, instead of staying at home in front of the TV."
This is true, and I do commend the parents who take advantage of the many resources we have here in the Quad-Cities to entertain and educate our youth.
Successful parenting, however, is not about doing the bare minimum so you can check out and see what's going on with Facebook while your kid wanders around unsupervised.
I'll admit, in the past I have been guilty of checking my email or posting a photo online when I should have been interacting with my children. However, seeing the distance created between parents and kids when a little mobile device is placed in front of them opened my eyes.
We all have the ability to help our children develop into critical thinkers, creative minds, and innovative future employees or business owners. We fail, however, when we allow ourselves and our children to be consumed with the massive amounts of insignificant information that flood into our brains when we are "plugged in" to the virtual world and "tuned out" of real life.
The best thing you can do on the weekend is to turn the phone, the TV, the computer off and get active.
It's cold outside, so what? I remember being a kid and having the most fun when my brother and I played in the yard for hours in almost all kinds of weather (my parents NEVER would've let me spend four hours in front of a TV).
The kids want to stay home and watch movies, don't let them! Take a road trip to a museum in Iowa City, go swimming at the YMCA, or make an obstacle course or a dance stage in your living room.
There isn't an app for quality time with your family; activities and family memories are downloaded by physically disconnecting from the digital world and really communicating, developing valuable relationships, and getting active with those we love who are right in front of us.
Liz Strader of Davenport is an entrepreneur, advocate, and working mom of three little girls.