Driven to Distraction? Tune In, Turn off, Unplug!

During breakfast in the mornings before preschool I admit that we used to let our youngest

Kathy Ellerbeck, MD, FAAP

Kathy Ellerbeck, MD, FAAP

watch cartoons on TV.  Until we figured out that she couldn’t watch TV and chew at the same time!   There is good evidence that “multitasking” is over-rated …most of us don’t multitask very well!   And mealtimes should be about eating and talking …not eating in front of the TV.   I think we all know that.

But now there is the cell phone in my pocket.  At all times.   And there’s (always) work to be done that I could be doing while eating.  Or playing.  My cell phone is addictive, a constant temptation….   And I think that that’s true for lots of parents.

In March of this year there was an article published in Pediatrics about the mobile device use of 55 caregivers of young children eating in a fast food restaurant.   The study was observational, and the caregivers didn’t know that they were being observed.   The researchers chose to observe caregivers and children during meals because mealtime is a daily routine in which face-to-face caregiver-child interactions are considered to be a good thing.

The researchers used the concept of “absorption” with the device (smartphone or tablet); in other words, the extent to which the primary focus of the caregiver’s attention was the device rather than the child.  Forty caregivers of the 55 observed used their mobile device during the meal.  Sixteen caregivers used the device almost continuously throughout the meal, eating and talking while looking at the device or only putting it down briefly to interact.  Some children responded by entertaining themselves; but others acted out for attention.  Many caregivers subsequently responded harshly.

I caught that article about Mobile Device Use by Caregivers in Pediatrics in March – but I somehow missed that between sundown on March 23rd and sundown on March 24th it was the National Day of Unplugging.  The Unplugging Pledge goes like this: “Shut down your computer….turn off your cell phone. Stop the constant emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking to take time to notice the world around you. Connect with loved ones. Nurture your health. Get outside. Find silence. Avoid commerce. Give back. Eat Together.”

My daughters used to read books by Jerry Spinelli – there’s a quote I like….

Live today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today. Inhabit your moments. Don’t rent them out to tomorrow.”
― Jerry SpinelliLove, Stargirl

I’m going to try to celebrate Unplugging for some part of every day.  I hope that you too can inhabit all your moment with the ones you love!

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