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Posted on Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 6 a.m.

'Pay attention to me!' Is constant connectivity hurting our kids?

By Jen Eyer

Have you seen the commercial where the guy is embarrassed to take out his old, low-tech phone to answer a call?

I can so identify with that.

I'm still carrying around a decidedly not smart LG flip phone, and this recent article in the New York Times is exactly why.

Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in “Alone Together” early next year by Basic Books.

In her studies, Dr. Turkle said, “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 an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.”

Now, before you think I'm going to get all preachy, I have to say it's my husband who has fought the move to smart phones in our house.

He claims that once I have constant access to email, news updates and Facebook, it's going to be hard to compete for my attention. And that scares him.

Truthfully, it scares me, too, because I know he's right. That's why I haven't pushed back.

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But with the careers we have, it's always only a matter of time before technological upgrades become imperative. That time has come for us. So, when our contract expires in a couple of months, we're going smart.

The question is, how can we be smart about it?

It's a struggle now, even with my laptop, to not be constantly checking in with work. My six-year-old commented the other day that my laptop's always open in my room so I can check my email. But at least there's a sense that it's just rude to bring out the laptop when I'm playing a game with my kids.

Am I going to feel that same sense of social faux-pas when I have a more discreet handheld device? My instinct tells me it's going to be a lot harder to draw the line.

That's why I liked the advice given in the same NYT article:

Meredith Sinclair, a mother and blogger in Wilmette, Ill., said she had no idea how what she calls her “addiction to e-mail and social media Web sites” was bothering her children until she established an e-mail and Internet ban between 4 and 8 p.m., and her children responded with glee. “When I told them, my 12-year-old, Maxwell, was like, ‘Yes!’ ” Ms. Sinclair said.

“You can’t really do both,” she added. “If I’m at all connected, it’s too tempting. I need to make a distinct choice.”

That's exactly what I'm going to have to do: block off certain times of day and turn the phone off.

Are you constantly connected? Do your kids complain about it? What are your strategies for keeping it under control?

Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at She leads the Parenting and Pets sections, and writes feature stories, blog posts and opinion pieces. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or


Phillip Farber

Sun, Jun 13, 2010 : 11:20 a.m.

As true community was lost in western culture, it was inevitable that digital communication technologies like cable TV, cell phones and computers would fill the void. Except they don't fill the void any more than compulsive shopping does. They only intensify the feelings of separation and loss. The question is not "Smartphone or not?", it's "What happened to my actual connections with flesh and blood human beings?"


Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 6:51 p.m.

It's not just adults ignoring their kids, I have been talking to adults who suddenly start reading their email - unbelievably rude!


Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 4:47 p.m.

You mean the parents are guilty of this? In our house, it is the kids (teens).

Susan Montgomery

Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I got: "wherever you are, be there." Can't say I always heed it, but it helps a lot to remember it...

Ann Arbor mom

Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 10:38 a.m.

Unhooking from phones and computers is essential! I am now signing off for the day myself.


Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

Yep. Totally agree. It's a big joke in my family that I'm a major slacker with my cell phone. But the truth is, I don't WANT to have it attached to me 24 hours a day. I don't want to teach my daughter the lesson that she, too, must be available at all times to people. I interviewed an expert once on kids and technology, and she said that more and more family therapists are seeing teens who are just as stressed out as their parents because they feel pressured by friends to INSTANTLY respond to every text message or phone call. If they don't, they get bombarded with messages saying, "Where are you? Why aren't you answering me? Are you mad at me?" It's not healthy. I also have a personal technology ban for myself at night. Around 7 p.m. every night, I turn the computer off.