Monday 21 October 2019

'Smartphone orphans': Are Irish parents on their phones too much in front of the children?

Stella O'Malley
Stella O'Malley
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Psychologists have been warning that too much screen time for parents is leading to a phenomenon called “smartphone orphans”.

Instead of spending time with their children, parents are glued to their smart phone after work, and are missing out on important family moments.

Irish psychologist Stella O’Malley tells that Irish parents need to create their own boundaries and even sometimes allow their children to call them out if their smartphone use has become excessive.

“I think [“smartphone orphans" is] a good phrase because an awful lot of people know they use the smart phone too much. I think it’s very easy to slide and fall into it. You don’t intend to but there’s so much entertainment on the phones and it’s so easy to be permanently distracted and it seems like you’re with your children but you’re not actually with your children.”

“Children are used to it, and very often they’re being told ‘Mammy’s on the phone, leave her alone’. And generally Mammy does need to take the phone call or the email. But children haven’t been told that it’s OK to say ‘put your phone down, you’re being rude to me’. They’ve been told the exact opposite.”

“Often there is a validity in the parent taking the phone call. But when there’s no validity in it, the children don’t know that actually ‘that’s not appropriate’.”

She added: “It’s hard and it’s a commitment, and it’s a decision. I am that person, I would be guilty. I have told the children, Mammy isn’t allowed to be on the phone and to call me out on it.”

Imposing phone-free areas in the home, and phone-free times every day, will help to break the habit of excessive smartphone use, Ms O'Malley suggests.

“The concept is very insulting and a lot of studies have been shown that if you’re in a café and you put the phone on the table, instantly it’s a third presence on the table. Whatever your companion is saying becomes second in importance to the phone.”

“We need to stop and think about that. Not taking your phone out and putting it on the table is a decision to make. The kitchen or sitting room should be tech-free. You don’t take phone calls in your kitchen.”

“There are different theories over how long it takes to break a habit, but you must do something for a serious length of time. If you make your kitchen tech-free, you’re also giving the children rules, we don’t do technology in the kitchen, when we’re cooking or eating or anything.”

“These are the two major things. Children’s bedrooms and kitchens, and then there would be times, when the phone should be off as well... It’s not right that you’re checking Facebook at bed time. The physicality of turning it off between 7 and 9 at night is helpful,” Ms O’Malley added.

JOMO, or the joy of missing out, is a phenomenon that's beginning to seem more alluring to a society that had FOMO, or fear of missing out, for so long, Ms O'Malley added.

“I like this JOMO, and I think what we’re modelling to our children is very important - that they see that parents have control over their phones, that we’re not slaves or martyrs to our phones.”

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