Resolve to put down the cellphone and parent this year


Austin’s new ban on driving while using handheld devices such as cellphones, which goes into effect Jan. 1, got us thinking. Should we also consider enacting our own personal ban on using a cellphone while parenting for the new year? Might that make a perfect resolution?

Craig Palsson, a graduate student in Yale University’s Department of Economics, did a study that compared injury rates of children between 2005 and 2012 and found a 10 percent increase in injuries for children younger than 5. His conclusion: As cellphone technology has increased and become more available, so has distracted parenting.

It’s a bit of a leap, perhaps, but certainly you’ve seen (or been) that parent at the playground who is checking email or playing an app game or making a call — anything other than watching children.

Dr. Serena Hon, a family medicine physician at Austin Regional Clinic, says she hasn’t seen any injuries she can blame on parents distracted by cellphones, but she has noticed an increasing phenomenon. She’s having to tell parents and their children to put down their phones so she can talk to them during an exam. That’s when she explains the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines of limited screen time for children younger than 2 and no more than two hours a day for children 2 and over — and that includes all screens: computers, iPads, TVs and cellphones.

Hon also has noticed younger kids playing more with phones and tablets rather than learning how to be imaginative with objects, such as their parent’s keys, blocks and crayons. That skill of being able to entertain yourself is really important, she says, as is having your parent interact with you in your first few years of life. It’s how babies learn to be human.

For parents and also teens, being on devices constantly is having some cumulative effects physically. Remember carpal tunnel and desk jobs? Well, people who are on devices all the time are also having chronic pains, including in their necks. Dr. Ai Mukai, a physiatrist at Texas Orthopedics Sports & Rehabilitation Associates, says while teens might be on their phones six hours a day, adults are almost as bad at two to four hours a day. Looking down all the time is like having 60 pounds, or an 8-year-old, on your neck. She wants you to stop holding your phone between your neck and shoulder and instead use a hands-free device.

For checking email or using an iPad, bring the cellphone or iPad to eye level. Sit comfortably in a chair with back support. If you have to be working in bed or on a couch, put a pillow or a cushion under your back and neck for support. She also suggests taking frequent breaks and stretching out your back and neck by standing against a wall and pushing your head and shoulders back against the wall.

Now that we’ve talked about how to protect your body while using a cellphone and why interaction with your children is important, you might need some new ideas on what to do with those kids, especially on this long winter break. Let’s face it — a lot of children (and parents) haven’t yet put down their electronic Christmas presents.

Asia Citro, who heads the website FunAtHomeWithKids.com, has “150 Plus Screen-free Activities for Kids” in her new book by that name. You can create whole worlds using a plastic tub and plastic creatures like bugs, fish and dinosaurs. If you have flour, salt, water and food coloring, you can make play dough like your mom used to make. If you have dish soap, water, watercolors and a mixer, you can make Soap Foam. Play with it in the bathroom and clean up the bathroom as well. There’s also a lot of slime to be made.

December is also know as DeSTEMber at Austin’s GirlStart. Find a calendar at GirlStart.org and click on an activity a day that uses science, technology, engineering and math. We love making dinosaur puppets, an edible aquifer and a paper sundial.

And for parents who are frequent technology offenders, it might be time to give your cellphone or iPad a physical time out. Perhaps it’s that it lives in a drawer or your purse when you’re with the kids and gets taken out only for an emergency or at scheduled times to check that there are no work emergencies.

If you use your cellphone as your camera and want to record everything and then share it, remember that parenting is an experience, not a social media post. Your children won’t remember how many posts of them you put on Instagram, but they will remember the time you made slime together and got messy, too.



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