ConsumerWatch with Julie WattsBy Julie Watts

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It seems we’re never without them these days. Cellphones call us, text us, email and entertain us. Now psychologists are telling parents and caregivers to put them down because cellphones may be hazardous to our children’s mental health.

To find out the effect all those cellphone calls have on kids, ConsumerWatch did an informal playground survey.

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“How do you feel when your mommy and daddy are on the phone?” we asked.

“Sad,” said one 4-year-old.

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“Kinda sad,” agreed her friend.



They’re not alone, and it’s not just preschoolers who feel this way.

Dr. Catherine Steiner Adair is a clinical psychologist and Harvard researcher. She says it’s much more widespread, and the psychological impact is clear.

“Children of all ages use the same adjectives to describe how they feel when they are competing with screens for their parent’s attention,” said Adair. “Angry, sad, frustrating, and lonely were the words used over and over.”

A recent international study confirms her findings. Online security company AVG/Location Labs found a third of children said their parents spend as much or more time with their devices, than they do with them.

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“These devices are actually addictive,” says company CEO Tasso Roumeliotis. “They are constructed that way and meant to notify you and trigger a dopamine addictive hit to your brain to react.”

The survey found more than half (54%) of kids feel their parents check their devices too often. More than a third (32%) said they feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their phones.

Psychologists point out, when parents are looking at their screens they often respond more harshly to their kids. But psychology aside, the technology can be downright dangerous.

“We’ve seen about a 22% spike in preventable accidents with young children and caretakers using their digital devices,” said Adair.

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It’s a sobering statistic that may convince some parents to limit their screen time so their kids can do as they say, and as they do — just turn them off.

Psychologists say it’s not a matter of giving your kids your undivided attention. It’s about setting limits, especially during specific times of day, like in the car, at dinner, during bath time and bedtime.

Parents should finish their calls before they walk in the door at night, and really give their undivided attention when they greet their child at the end of a long day.

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As one dad said, ‘if you feel like your kids are nagging you when your checking Facebook, then put down Facebook.’