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It's All About the Kids: a column by Dr. Janet McPeek

Parents must protect family time

August 28, 2013 - There are so many things vying for our attention these days. Smartphones. Television. Video games. Social media. E-mails. And it is not just kids who are being distracted. Parents often find themselves preoccupied with their electronic devices too.

To be fair, adult distractions are frequently work-related. If you're like me, you get hundreds and hundreds of e-mails at work every day. Although some of the messages fall in the category of junk mail, I still must read each one in order to make sure that I don't miss any important communication.

A constant blast of e-mails is one reason why parents stay distracted at work and home. Recent psychological research indicates many working adults are running around in a kind of "semi-distraction," which can take a toll on physical health and increase stress levels. Today's work environment is partially to blame. Many employees can't go home and relax after work. They are expected to stay in touch with their job via technology.

A common complaint from kids is that their parents not only work long hours, but when they do have time to watch their children participate in a sport for instance, they still are distracted and often miss pivotal plays. Children may look at their parents in the stands, only to see that they are not watching the game. Instead, they are focused on their smartphones or tablets.

So how can parents reduce the distractions and preserve very important family time? First, place limits on the time you spend working outside the office. Just like some parents place limits on the time their child spends on iPads, computers, and video games, you too can make a commitment to limit the times you read your e-mails outside of work. Resolve to not take calls or text when you're at your child's sports practice or when you're having a family dinner.

On the other hand, your employer may expect you to stay in touch during your non-work hours. We've grown into a society that believes it is okay to text or e-mail colleagues in the evening, because it is considered less obtrusive than phone calls. Gone are the good old days when the end of the work day really was the end of the work day. Home was a place of respite and the evening was a time to rest, relax, regroup and get refreshed. Today, it is the norm to take work home, stay in touch via technology, and be on 24/7 call.

Of course, I would never suggest that anyone defy what is normal in your workplace, but maybe you can compromise a little. Check your phone and e-mail only at a set time, such as the top of the hour. Turn off the sounds that alert you each time you receive an e-mail or text. Let your kids see that you are paying attention to them.

It is important for parents to take care of their own wellbeing and protect family time. Otherwise, the constant bombardment and intrusion will have a negative impact on your health and family life. We should all learn that it is okay to sometimes say, "It can wait."

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