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CELL PHONES AND PARENTING

Cell phones are not going to go away and I won’t try to deny the benefits of a cell phone. Of course I own one but with rare exceptions mine is turned off. I use it when I need it but I am not available when others want to talk. Answering machines can easily keep us in touch with each other without interfering with real life or parenting.

There are over 212 million cell phone subscribers in the US and over 2 billion cell phones world wide. In the first quarter of 2007, 39 million units were sold in the US generating 3 billion dollars in sales. One source (hopefully they’re wrong!) reported that close to 50% of our kids have their own cell phones. A couple of years ago the average length of a cell phone call was 2.87 minutes. I typed in “cell phone addiction” today while writing this column and Google came up with 1,580,000 results.

Addiction or simply bad manners as well as bad parenting? In his Guest Opinion column published in the Arizona Daily Star on May 10, 2007, Robert Barden told of sitting next to a family of four in a restaurant when the Mommy’s cell phone rang. She answered the call and carried on a trivial conversation while her family ate in silence. Barden noted three other tables in the restaurant where cell phones were in use including one table where BOTH diners were talking!

His column reports a survey in which 15% of respondents replied they interrupted sex to answer a cell phone! 7% answering another survey blamed the cell phone for loss of a relationship or job. Whether these poor unfortunates making such poor choices are addicted to cell phones or merely stupid doesn’t matter. Every cell phone in the world can be turned off. The best choice a person can make is to turn off the phone when with other people who don’t want to hear your conversation.

Those other people include your children. Children need and crave attention from their parents. Full attention, focused attention, undivided attention, courteous attention. What an awful message that Mom in the restaurant was giving her kids: never mind the people you are with that you supposedly love. It’s OK to ignore them to speak into an ounce of plastic.

I was once seated next to a young mother on a plane who kept a potentially squirming toddler happy and content by continuously talking to him and watching him for signs of restlessness when she provided a change of toys or books as well as snacks. This Mom was totally attentive to her child. When we landed I complimented the mother on her exemplary parenting.

If you mothers out there want to hear nice things about your parenting from us grandmothers, for goodness sake pay attention to your child! Let your cell phone take a message. Little kids need their parent’s attention to know their parents love them, to learn about the world around them, and to be entertained for a while when things get boring. So keep up a running patter about what you are doing in the market, where the pasta is, what kind of fruit to buy. In a restaurant talk together as a family.

The most important connections are the people you are with, especially the little people, not the ones on the other end of the line.

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