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Updated: Tuesday, 09 Nov 2010, 12:25 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 04 Nov 2010, 6:00 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - At the West Austin Youth Association , laughter and squeals of success filled the air on the fields at the afternoon preschool soccer practice. The pre-K players looked proud as can be as they worked through the drills of dribbling, kicking and jumping.
They loved it when mom or dad cheered from the sidelines, although the players’ biggest fans sometimes missed the excitement because they were distracted by sending or receiving a text, tweet or e-mail.
Admit it, moms and dads -- many parents spend at least some time when with children checking messages, texting or tweeting. Sometimes kids have to try really hard to get a parent's attention.
"I'll be holding the phone, and they'll put things in front of me between the phone and my face, or they'll be talking constantly until I acknowledge them and put it down,” said Demian Fore, a father.
Parents at Zilker Park often face the temptation of that text or Facebook update rather than playing with their children.
“I always have my iPhone with me, and I check it all the time before preschool pickups,” said mom Amy Brady.
A mother of two and a businesswoman , Brady enjoys taking her boys to parks and other Austin hot spots. She relies on social media and her smart phone to keep her up-to-date about places to take her family. She also uses them to help run her personal organizing business. However, she often wonders how all her technical connection affects her sons.
“I always have it in the back of my mind when I’m on my iPhone, if I’m tweeting for my businesses or if I’m just checking e-mail,” said Brady. “I think, 'Oh my goodness. What are they doing?'”
Psychologists are also beginning to question how parents’ technological connections are affecting the connections to their children. When parents are tweeting or texting instead of talking with their kids, it can impact language development in young children.
“The best language learning happens with focused interaction between the child and adult,” said University of Texas associate professor of psychology Dr. Catharine Echols. “In that interaction, parents should be talking about what the child is interested in. If social media is interfering with that, then it could be harmful.”
Echols is also quick to remind parents that many things can distract them from spending that time with their children, and that each child has different needs when it comes to language development.
Just like any distraction, psychologists said smart phones and social media can affect the social connection a parent has with a child.
“The child is going to take their cues from the parents, and if the habit of the parent is I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy… I have to do my work... I have to check my thing, then the child will eventually realize, 'Oh, I better go be busy too, because they don’t have time for me ,'” said Austin psychologist Carrie Contey .
Contey advises moms and dads to set schedules and time limits for when they stay “connected.” When they are not “connected,” turn the phone and laptop computer off and put them away physically in a drawer. Contey said parents should constantly remind themselves that the time they have to connect with their children is short.
“I’ve got a lifetime to check my devices and know what my friends are doing on the Internet, but I’ve got a few moments of being with this child each day,” said Contey. “So what am I going to do to make those count?”
Emerging area of research
In a New York Times article, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle , described some of the findings of her five years of research into the subject.
“Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or extracurricular activity, and during sports events,” said Turkle.
Austin mom balances parenting and technology
Gena Kirby often finds her self in her apartment surrounded by her three children feeling a tug from her laptop computer or iPhone. She runs a birthing and parenting business out of her home while raising three daughters with her husband, Craig.
“Between Facebook and Twitter -- those are the two main things -- I do have four pages that I have to upkeep for my business, and then there's my personal -- keeping in touch with friends back home, so it's a lot more time than I'd like to admit that I spend online,” said Kirby. “It will be right when my 7-year-old wants to play Memory or something. 'Mom, are you on the computer again?' It's just another thing that pulls you away from them.”
Kirby makes a living helping other moms and dads deal with the struggles of parenting, yet she is the first to admit, it is difficult to restrain from posting one more thing on Facebook or sending one more tweet even when she knows it is probably better at times to stop what she is doing and
spend time with her girls.
“I'm always conscious about what I'm doing as a parent -- how it's going to affect my children --but it doesn't keep you from doing things you probably shouldn't do,” said Kirby. “At least I'm aware of it.”
When she has spent too much time on her laptop or iPhone, Kirby’s family let’s her know about it. Her husband Craig has an easy way of reminding her when it is time to turn off the technology.
“I usually sing my Facebook junkie song, and that kind of rings a bell,” said Craig Kirby.
Kirby’s daughters let her know too when enough is enough.
“Even my 18-month-old -- If I'm on my phone texting away or putting something on Facebook, then she's going to reach for it and try to -- you know, this is something that's keeping mommy away from me , and she knows that,” said Gena Kirby. “Kids get it. They may not be able to talk about it, but they get it.”
“They're a lot more cranky,” said Kirby. “They're quick to get upset about things. They're not feeling that connection from me, so they feel disjointed.”
Kirby tries to do most of her computer and phone work after her children are asleep at night. When she has to work during the day when she is with her girls, she sets boundaries for when she will stop working and communicates them to her children.
“Here's the deal. Mommy's going to do this right now, and then when I'm done here's what we're going to do,” Kirby told her daughters. “It gives them something to look forward to. They understand, but it is not as important as them, because my focus will come right back to them, and then I have to stick to that.”
Child psychologists advise parents like Kirby to remember they are always being a role model to their children.
“How am I going to be able to talk to her about the amount of time she's spending on Facebook when she sees me spending lots of time on there?” asked Kirby.
Kirby likes to think of technology just like any other parenting distraction. She constantly reminds herself to balance it all the best she can.
“Anything can be abused,” said Kirby. “I really think so. As awesome and marvelous as these tools are for keeping us in touch with others -- our friends or our peers -- they can also keep us out of touch with the people closest to us.”