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'Unless parents cure their own smartphone addiction, they won't be able to cure their kids'

An expert says parents need to lead by example.

Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

AN EXPERT HAS warned parents that if they want their children to spend less time on their smartphones and tablets, they need to lead by example.

Peter Cosgrove, who works with the Future of Work Institute Ireland, said smartphone addiction could have a huge impact on people’s social skills and ability to do certain jobs in the future.

“My view is that unless we cure our own addiction we won’t be able to get kids off the phone,” Cosgrove told TheJournal.ie.

He said certain jobs will be taken over by robots in years to come, but roles that require empathy and understanding human emotion will not.

However, people’s overreliance on technology could be damaging such skills.

“I worry that phones are literally replacing every moment where you have to have a conversation, we’re losing critical skills.

“If you’re stuck in a lift, for example, many people can’t have two minutes of conversation – their head is stuck in their phone. No conversation in life is perfect and that’s okay, it’s still good to have them.”

Cosgrove said it’s unfair to blame children for smartphone addiction as it’s usually learned behaviour.

“If you picture a mother or father holding a five-month-old baby with one hand they often have a smartphone in the other hand. So from the very beginning, the child knows that the phone is the most important thing to get attention.

From a very young age they know that ‘this is the most important in your life, so it’s probably the most important thing in mine too’.

Cosgrove said addressing smartphone addiction is a “huge challenge” but people should still try to improve their habits, rather than just accept them. 

It’s something he himself needs to work on, noting: “I have to be strong about putting the phone down, I don’t have it in bedroom, I wouldn’t be able to help looking at it – and I’m 47.

“We need to stop blaming kids, it’s learned behavior. We’re doing it and they’re doing it.”

Fun Unplugged 

Cosgrove has written a book that aims to help children spend less time on smartphones and tablets.

Fun Unplugged features games, riddles and puzzles all centred on talking to other people and asking them questions.

Cosgrove said the book’s content was tested on children in schools and Blackrock Athletic Club.

The great thing about kids is if they think the games are not good they’ll tell you.

Cosgrove said he wouldn’t put an age limit on how old a child should be before they’re given a smartphone or tablet as every child is different.

“There are kids who are incredible and able to use the phone and put it down, saying ‘I’ve had enough’, but there are others who are on it all day.”

He said parents should limit the time children are allowed to spend on such devices, and the content they can access, rather than ban them altogether.

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Órla Ryan

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