Like most products of the always-on tech boom, it’s hard for me to imagine life today without technology. My smartphone wakes me up in the morning.  It tells me what the temperature is outside.  It guides me when I’m lost, notifies me of birthdays and appointments, makes sure I know what my friends are up to, and alerts me of the latest news.  It’s a constant fixture on my desk at work, on our table during meals and on the coffee table when I’m relaxing at home.  Anytime it buzzes, blinks or vibrates I know someone, somewhere is thinking of me, tweeting at me, messaging me, emailing me or tagging me.

My little device makes me feel needed.  Unfortunately, it also distracts me from areas of real need.

As freelance writer Katia Hetter shared in a post today on CNN (excerpted, below):

“Mama, put the phone AWAY.”

That’s my kid talking to me, and she’s only 3.

She’s scolding me, but she’s scolding you, too.

I understand your work pays the bills and you only have time to connect to people through Tweeting your mood or reading your cousin’s latest Facebook update. I really do get it. My phone is wearing holes in my favorite jeans.

As for me, I’m afraid a boss may accuse me of failing utterly in my latest project if I don’t respond to her e-mail immediately. I also read the newspaper on my phone when I’m too sleepy to find my shoes to go outside and get the real thing. And I get into the Twitter discussion of the latest natural disaster, of which there are many these days.

Still, I know my addiction to my hand-held device is bad. Checking my phone while talking to my kid while cooking dinner is hurting my capacity to stay with a thought for more than 140 characters.

My phone is also my helpful denial tool that I live in the real world filled with dirty dishes, diapers, laundry and bits of red Georgia clay getting tracked into the house without my consent. More to vacuum, more to wipe down, more to load into the dishwasher.

The problem is, my kid sees me with that phone and doesn’t think about all that real world stuff. She doesn’t give me a pass. In that moment, she might believe my phone is more important than she is.

That makes me sad, probably because she’s right, in that moment. And now I know if I fail to focus on her, she might not learn how to read emotions and interact with others.

As writer Jonathan Franzen recently pointed out, we can become rather infatuated with our smartphones.  Technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of a relationship, in which “the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes” (like our kids are known to do!).  While there are many social, emotional and professional benefits to technology use, as author Nicholas Carr explains, overuse of technology and our chronic tendencies to multi-task with tech can impede comprehension, weaken understanding and, at times, hinder learning.   “The multitude of messages and other bits of information that the Web fires at us, from emails to tweets to Facebook updates, have been found to interrupt our thoughts in a way that impedes the formation of memories and the building of knowledge. The more information we juggle, the less able we are to make sense of it all.” (See also this NYT article: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.)

Our kids are watching us closely, and the way that we interact with them and with technology will have a profound impact on them as they grow and learn.

Do your kids feel as though they are prioritized over the technology in your life?  We would love to hear how you strike a healthy balance with your kids in the comments below. 

For those parents seeking to do a better job, Katia Hetter shared several great points worth passing on to you:

Tips for technology-addicted parents

You spend so much time making sure your kids eat right, have all of their shots, and have their homework done for school the next day. Their social development and ability to connect with other people is just as important for their survival.

Make a conscious effort to dedicate a few minutes each day to focus on what your children are saying — without any media distracting you or them — and see what happens. 

Face-to-face time

Spend some time with your child talking and looking at each other face to face. Talk to your child and don’t do anything else. Insist your kid look at you. If face-to-face time is understood as sacred, children and adults alike will focus and learn instead of looking elsewhere.

Turn off media

Turn off, silence or sleep televisions, phones, computers, games or other electronic devices that can distract when you’re speaking with your children.

Have dinner as a family

This is old advice, but bears repeating: All technology should be off the table — literally. If you’re sitting around the table texting while eating, you are not connecting. Teach your child to connect by connecting.

Full article (Smartphone Danger: Distracted Parenting by Katia Hetter) can be seen here.