Dad, Can You Put Away the Laptop?

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dad, Can You Put Away the Laptop?

An interesting look at the technology role-reversal between kids and parents...

Forever, the screen-time battles between parents and children have gone decidedly in one direction, with the mothers and fathers nagging and threatening, and the kids fighting to stay connected to their digital devices.

But guess which family members are disgusted now?

“You can’t get my mom off that phone," said Lucas Finzi, 7, a second-grader. He and his brother have tried shaking their mother’s iPhone from her hands, and turning it off while she’s mid-correspondence, to no avail. “We’ll be at the dog park and she’ll just start texting someone," said Miles, 10.

Aidan and Keira Mangan have the same problem with their father. The 4- and 3-year-old pound on David Mangan’s laptop keyboard to get his attention, stick their heads between him and the screen, and even fabricate potty-training accidents.

“Sometimes I bargain with them," David said, sounding more like a middle-schooler pleading to finish one more drive on the Madden NFL 12 game than the professional pharmacist he is. “Just give me 10 more minutes."

Kids have always fought household rivals for their parents’ attention, of course. But competing against a phone attached to a kitchen wall or a newspaper is nothing compared with going head-to-head with Facebook or Angry Birds. No one has calculated the number of iPhone (or tablet or laptop) orphans. But children who dream of talking to or playing with their parents without Mom or Dad stealing a glance at a screen may find it increasingly difficult.

It’s no wonder the kids are starting to push back, said Michael Rich, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health. He sees patients, particularly adolescents, who throw their parents' own digital addiction right back at them. “Why should I disconnect when you don’t?" they ask.

What’s happened to parents? A very small percentage of Americans -- under 10 percent -- are clinically addicted to technology, said David Greenfield, a psychologist who directs the West Hartford, Conn.-based Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. But about 65 percent of people definitely abuse it, he said.

Many kids are sincerely bothered by their parents’ screen habits and have resorted to shaming their parents. When Paula Touliopoulos’s 9-year-old daughter “caught" her typing an hour past when the Boston mom promised to stop working, the little girl admonished her. “What are you doing?" Arianna asked, appalled. “Texting?"

“Never mind that you can’t text from a computer," Touliopoulos said; her daughter was spitting out the worst word she could conjure.