Many Australian parents worry about their children having too much screen time, but perhaps they should look a little closer to home. If the six- and seven-year-olds of Manor Lakes College, west of Melbourne, are anything to go by, many children feel “sad”, “ignored” and “angry” about their parents’ mobile phone use.

“When my dad’s on the phone and I try to talk to him, he just ignores me,” said year two student Aiden. “It makes me feel angry.”

Year one students Leila and Ruby were in eager agreement when asked whether their parents used their phones too much.

“I think it’s annoying and they always ignore you when they’re too much on the phone,” Ruby said.

Lily said she felt “pretty sad” when her dad was constantly on his phone or computer. “He’s always lazy, and when he’s lazy he always sits on his computer or his phone,” she said.

“And my mum asks him questions but he doesn’t even listen after the third one.”

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. The average Australian smartphone owner checks their phone 30 times a day. Ruby’s mum Jo said she used her phone frequently throughout the day — for work, lining up child pickups, making arrangements with her mothers group. “It’s just like them being on their iPads, they get very distracted being on those. We do exactly the same thing on our smartphones,” she said.

“I go mad at Ruby for being on her device a lot, but really I guess I’m guilty of the same.”

Kids misunderstand what phones are used for

Also sitting in the classroom was Kate Highfield, a senior lecturer in education at Swinburne University. She wasn’t surprised by the children’s responses.

“If you’re a child whose experience of using technology or screens is around watching media or playing games, you’re assuming that when you see your parents using technology that they’re doing exactly the same thing,” Dr Highfield said.

She insisted that good communication was key when it came to smartphone use and kids.

“Maybe we have to have conversations with our children about what we’re doing on the screen,” she said.

Dr Highfield also suggested that parents’ device use could set a pattern of behaviour which interfered with their children’s relationships, cognitive development and emotional responses.

“As parents we have to remember that we’re the child’s first teacher and the most important model of what’s appropriate behaviour.”

– Fiona Pepper

Read More: ‘It makes me feel angry’: Kids speak out about their parents’ phone use

Image by Marvin Meyer from Unsplash