Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 10.34.54In her first column for Jewish News, our in-house doctor Ellie Cannon suggests how screen-obsessed parents can become more engaged with their children.

doctor Ellie Cannon

Doctor Ellie Cannon

A huge amount is written about the effects of computer games and TV on our children’s behaviour and body shape – but what interests me is the amount of time us parents spend staring at screens too.

As a GP and mum of two, I’d say parents need to scrutinise carefully their own screen habits: the kids will follow suit, as they all learn by example. Why do you see so many toddlers looking at iPhones in their buggies now?

Because they’re copying mum and dad. I even have patients checking their phones during GP consultations with me which seems odd given the time-pressured 10-minute appointment slots.

When someone turns to look at his or her phone during a conversation (and don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty too) they are basically saying, “This is potentially more important than you”.

It’s really quite rude to a fellow adult, but I think it’s far worse to your child. Like every parent, I find life feels crazy in our household but I have always prided myself on being with my kids a huge amount despite working – since half my job is broadcasting and writing, I can fit in a lot during school hours and after bedtimes, so I feel I’m “around” a lot. But a lot of the time I’m with them, I feel hectic – even though all we are doing is homework or schlepping or dinner.

I admit I’ve loved my phone, the exciting messages about articles to write, book sales, commissions, Twitter and Facebook. And recently I started to realise it was actually taking me away from all that time I thought I had with my kids. And making me stressed and feel busy when I need to focus on them.

Doctor Ellie Cannon's new book!

Doctor Ellie Cannon’s new book!

Because although it’s me doing the homework, playing table football, collecting from school, it was actually always me and my always-there phone. It was like when Princess Di famously spoke about her marriage with three people in it because of Camilla.

My relationship with my kids was being interrupted too much by the phone. Whether the interruptions are fun (being asked out for coffee) or important (work), they were all taking my attention away from my kids or the real -life person I was with.

I know how horrible it feels to speak to people who are half looking at you because one eye is on their phones, and I realised that isn’t the attention I want to give my family. So I’ve called time on my relationship with my phone, and I highly recommend it.

I have realised most messages can wait, whether for an hour or two or in some cases for all time (Facebook has been deleted from my phone permanently ). Here is my action plan for better phone use as a parent:

• The phone does not go on until after I’ve dropped the kids at school or I am in the car to go to work (what could possibly happen before 8.30am?)

• When I pick the kids up from school, my phone stays at home and stays in a drawer on silent for the next few hours of playing, homework, bedtimes. I might check it once or twice to see if I need to action anything urgently.

• Even if I read something, I don’t action it unless it is really ASAP – that means a family medical emergency, not a playdate request! It has been quite a while now and I have missed no work or social arrangements.

I certainly don’t miss the Faceboast messages. But, most importantly, I find my time with children enjoyable (and much less shouty) because I’m not thinking about a text I need to answer.

The new rule is: the phone is in the drawer most of the weekend, during homework time, dinner time and even when we’re playing table football. I’ve spent years honing a good work-life balance – why should that be interrupted by spam, Facebook updates, playdate requests or even offers of work?

After three months I have learnt most things can wait an hour or two. Some, I’ve found, can wait forever – as mentioned, the Facebook app has been deleted.

When I do sit down to answer messages, I concentrate properly, not with half an eye on my son’s spelling. Family time is once again just what it’s supposed to be – time with family.

• Do you have a question for Dr Ellie? Email our in-house doctor at editorial@thejngroup.com