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Is Your Cellphone Addiction Harming Your Child?

Sat, February 23rd , 2019
Author: Miryam Zeineddine Expert: Dona Matthews

The dangers of child screen time is like a broken record playing over and over, and we’ve memorized the tune: disturbed sleep patterns, slower social development, obesity, anxiety, behavioral and attention problems etc. Nowadays really, one of the worst things you can give your child is a smartphone or a tablet. 

But to the parents stressing about the amount of time their kids are spending on iPads, racking their brains and thinking of ways to limit them: have you considered the damaging effects of YOUR screen time?

etcetera spoke to Dr. Dona Matthews, a Toronto-based developmental psychologist, to help explain why parents should be more concerned about how their own tablet and smartphone addiction are negatively affecting their kids. 


The Elephant in the Room Is in Your Hand 

Not a lot of research has gone into the dangers of parental screen time, but according to Dr. Matthews, parents’ use of screens might be of even greater concern than kids’. Children depend on their parents for almost everything, from being fed to being changed and clothed to feeling loved and secure. But parents might be focusing more on their children’s physical needs rather than their emotional ones. 

Dr. Matthews reminds us that children depend on parental attention, not only for their survival but for their self-worth and confidence. She explains that parents who spend a lot of time on their gadgets “distress their kids, leading to weaker bonding and lower resilience”.

“Kids of moms who spend time on phones are more negative, sadder, less playful, and less resilient” says Dr. Matthews. Naturally, the kids feel they have to compete with their parent’s phones, and unfortunately, they’re losing the competition. This feeling of unimportance can lead to emotional and behavioral disorders later on in life, highlights Dr. Matthews. 

Aside from the social and emotional effects comes also the impairment of language development. This is because instead of reading or talking to their children, parents are reading from or talking on their phones. Dr. Matthews assures us that “kids need their parents’ full attention when they are with them”. 

The Wrong Kind of Signal 

“Kids learn a lot more from what their parents do than from anything else” states Dr. Matthews. So, if parents make rules limiting screen time but spend most of their time on their phones, the kids are likely to do the same. 

“If parents want their kids to pay full attention at home and at school, persist on tasks without getting distracted, and value family time, they are wise to model that themselves” she insists. 

If parents are there physically, but not mentally or emotionally, they may as well not even be there at all, as Dr. Matthews puts it “That can be worse than hiring someone who will give a child their full attention”. 

Kids need focused and loving attention. Using a smartphone when you’re with a child is a form of psychological withdrawal, and it sends the wrong message that you’re more interested in your phone than in your child. A message that kids will not only pick up on, but take to heart. 

Dr. Matthews advises, “when you’re with your child, be with them. Put away that phone and other electronic devices. Enjoy the brief moment you have to help your child grow into the delightful adult you hope they will become”. 


 Dr. Dona Matthews holds an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D in Special Education. She is the founding director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education, at Hunter College andthe co-author of four books: ‘Being Smart about Gifted Education’, ‘The Development of Giftedness and Talent across the Life Span’, ‘The Routledge International Companion to Gifted Education’, and ‘Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids’. She also conducts a private practice that provides psycho-educational assessment and counseling. 


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