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Family Matters

Kids and Tech: Avoiding Family Dine-and-Dash

March 1st, 2012

Does dinner grow cold while you wait for your kids to finish updating their Facebook status? Do you miss quality car time with your kids on trips or your morning commute because their faces are aglow from the light of their smartphones? Does everyone scatter like magpies as soon as dinner is finished and rush off to their iGadgets?

According to a Pew Internet Report* (November 2011), teens average five sources from which they receive advice about online safety and responsibility. As parents, wouldn’t we prefer to be the top resource for guiding our kids toward online safety and good manners? We can’t stop others from influencing our kids, but we should model the best behavior – and even give our kids a reason to notice when others are operating by a lower standard.

I am the role model for my nine-year old twins: It makes sense that they will follow my lead when it comes to technology, as in everything else they see me do. Will they spend time hanging out in front of iTunes like I do, listening to music, buying new songs, updating playlists? Probably.

But will they spend a vast amount of their time texting their friends or updating their social media status – to the exclusion of what’s happening around them – when they get their own smartphones? Only if my wife and I do. It’s a common complaint: parents are dismayed that their kids spend so much time using their mobile devices when it’s family time.

According to the Pew study, 86 per cent of teens report getting advice from their parents on how to behave on the Internet with and with mobile devices. But you and I both know – from being parents, as well as having been kids ourselves – that our kids model our behaviour more often than they take our advice.

Take this family tech quiz:


  • Do you frequently respond to emails (work or personal) while your kids are right next to you?
  • Do you frequently take time out to post to Facebook or Twitter when you’re with your family?
  • Do you rush to your computer immediately after dinner to jump back into your online game to unwind at the end of the day?
  • Do you put in your headphones while you clean up after dinner so that no one can talk to you?
  • Now consider this: How would your kids answer those questions about you?

The truth is, even if I think I don’t use my phone or other tech gadgets to the exclusion of my family, if my kids perceive I do, that’s all that matters. They will learn I don’t truly value my time with them, that it is okay to prioritize our gadgets over our family.

If you’re concerned that your kids are spending too much time with tech, try starting a conversation about your own usage: “Do you feel like I use my mobile device too much?” Maybe you can create a code word to help them remind you to stay with them instead of giving your attention to whoever’s on the other end of that G4 connection – a code word you can also use with them when they’re checking out to check in online when it’s family time.

Family connectedness is extremely important. It will take a some work on everyone’s part to help make it special and keep it real.

Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT is a syndicated columnist and therapist specializing in parenting and relationships, involved fatherhood, building strong modern families and overcoming depression. He also is an Assistant Vice-President for Technology and Online Communications for a non-profit in New York City. Jeremy lives in New York with his wife and twin son and daughter. and @JGS_Author

*Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites.” Nov. 9, 2011. Part 2, Section 8: Influencers and Advice-Givers. Amanda Lenhart, Mary Madden, Aason Smith, Kristen Purcell, Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie.

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