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Mobile phones ruin family time, but don't blame the kids

Cell phone use is just as big a problem as ever in families, and kids say parents are the ones to blame.

Mobile phones ruin family time, but don't blame the kids

[DIGEST: BBC, Forbes, Mirror, LA Times, Psychology Today]

It’s a familiar sight all over the world: Families at home together, but everyone engrossed in their cell phones instead of interacting.

However, according to a recent survey, it’s not necessarily the kids who are to blame for too much screen time — it’s the parents.

Answers to the poll, conducted by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, revealed that 36 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds said they had asked their parents to stop checking their devices, and 22 percent said the use of phones was stopping their families from enjoying one another’s company.

Further, even though 82 percent of the kids felt mealtimes should be free of electronic devices, 14 percent said their parents were on their phones at the table — despite the fact that 95 percent of parents, who were polled separately, denied ever doing so.

“It’s a shame that technology is taking over our lives to the extent that we can’t even talk to our own family at dinner time — the one time of the day we are usually all together — to chat about our days," said George Charles, a spokesman for Voucher Codes Pro, a UK company that often commissions research. "Families should consider banning technology from the dinner table; they'd find that they talk more, probably get on better, and know more about what’s going on in each other’s lives.”

Of the students who had asked their parents to put down their phones, 46 percent said their parents “took no notice,” while 44 percent felt “upset and ignored.” Relatedly, another survey, commissioned in February, found that families spend four times as many minutes on their phones and devices than they spend together — 1 hour and 55 minutes versus 36 minutes.

While just putting the devices away seems like a no-brainer, it’s may not necessarily be as easy as it seems. An early-April 60 Minutes episode featured Tristan Harris, former product manager at Google, who admitted that cell phones can be physically addictive due to their ability to tap into our hard-wired rewards system. The fact we can seek information and receive an instant response — pushing a button and receiving a notification, downloading an instant text reply, immediately satisfying a question on Google — results in the release of dopamine in our brains, which causes us to seek out the experience again. The habit can be so difficult to break that some drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers have even begun offering specialized treatment programs for cell phone addiction.

Although kids themselves are not off the hook — the Digital Awareness UK poll found that 72 percent of kids said they were online between three and 10 hours per day — it still behooves parents to think about how their own phone use affects their families.

"Children are aware of many of the risks associated with overuse of technology, but they need the adults in their lives to set clear boundaries and role model sensible behavior,” said Mike Buchanan, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.