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Hang Up and Talk
Pam Miller sees it all the time -- parents more interested in their phones than talking to their children.

By Pam Miller

I bet we all can agree: parenting is hard work. It's a huge responsibility. It's tiring, never-ending and sometimes unrewarding. Yet, as a therapist and mother, I've never met a parent who didn't want to be good at it.

Still, as I ride the bus, I notice how many parents are not talking to their kids, especially their little kids, the two-to-five year olds, kids old enough to talk. The parents I see are almost always staring at or talking on their cell phones.

Their children try valiantly to engage them in conversation.  The kids look out the window or at their fellow passengers. They're curious, watchful and stimulated. They want to share their experiences, to connect, to feel attached. Yet, too often, these precious opportunities are lost.

Recently, on Muni I heard, "Mommy, look at that house out there."  "Daddy, I'm thirsty."  "Mommy, why is that person in a wheelchair?"  Kids trying to talk things over with their parents. Yet, in each instance the parents were too absorbed in their phones to respond. Some even seemed annoyed.

The kids' reactions? Either they asked again and again, and were reprimanded, or they withdrew in silence, believing they'd done something wrong. Their little faces registered rejection, resignation, and they tugged at my heartstrings.  They were just doing what comes naturally -- trying to share their experiences with a grownup.

Yes, parenting is hard, but parents are the ones who have the most influence on their children's futures. Research is overwhelmingly clear: kids who are spoken to and who hear lots of words, hopefully positive ones, do much better in school than kids who don't. And that means they usually do better in life, too.

What can we do? We can remind adults who care for children to talk to them or to bring a book along to read to them.

We can encourage Muni and BART to put up public service signs, reminding parents to talk to their children on their ride.

Parents, put down your phones. Give your kids a very special gift this season, the gift of conversation.

With a Perspective, this is Pam Miller.

Pam Miller is a San Francisco psychotherapist and an advisor to an early literacy non-profit group.

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