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Gen Z’s Message to Parents: ‘Put Your Phone Down’

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As soon as the topic of tech use comes up, a high school student named Lisa thrusts her hand into the air, nearly leaping out of her seat. “She’s always on her phone when I want to talk to her,” Lisa says. “Even when she’s not doing work, she’s only ever watching YouTube or Netflix. I wish I could have more of a relationship with her, but it’s hard when so much of her ‘free time’ is ‘phone time.’ I just don’t know how to get close to her.”

Lisa is not talking about a friend. She’s talking about her mother.

We parents focus a lot on how smartphones affect our kids. What many of us don’t know is that children worry about their parents’ use of technology as well. Children learn early that their parents are fixated on their laptops and phones—and that it can be hard to compete for their parents’ attention and time when mom or dad is using the screen “for work.”

In our work at My Digital Tat2, the non-profit we co-founded to foster kinder online cultures through youth-centered education, we have spoken to children from hundreds of elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to understand how they navigate social media and the digital world. Kids as young as eight tell us, “My mom is always texting under the table at dinner and she thinks I don’t know,” and “My dad always has his phone out because he says he needs it for work.”

These children feel sad, frustrated, or lonely when technology use creates a wall between them and their parents. And from a child’s perspective, it can feel like a double-standard when they are scolded for being on their phones too much, but it’s OK for parents to take work calls or check their email whenever.

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Thanks !

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