Baby boomers can't stop looking at their phones

Baby boomers can’t stop looking at their phones


Too much screen time is something we usually associate with children. We think of small children who watch CoComelon for hours on iPad, or teenagers who prefer to be absorbed in video games or YouTube rather than talking about their day.

But there’s another demographic that’s having a hard time letting go of their devices: baby boomers. Smartphones arrived late in their life, but they were quickly conquered. Now some of their children say they are addicted, constantly staring at their screens, even when they should be paying attention to their own grandchildren. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of baby boomers own a smartphone and about 6 in 10 are on social media.

“My mum has become very attached to her phone over the past five years. Whenever we’re together she’s on the phone a lot, usually scrolling through social media,” says Angela, 37, who declined to use her last name to avoid hurting her parents’ feelings.” It only really bothers me when my kids are around because they often try to get her attention, and she doesn’t know they’re trying to get her attention. her attention because she’s on the phone.”

We surveyed over 100 millennials and gen-Xers about their parents’ phone habits. About half said their parents were good at not being on their phones too much and being present in the moment – ​​often because they’re not tech-savvy or still use flip phones.

The others, however, are absorbed in their devices. They play Words with Friends, Candy Crush and card games, often at high volume. They watch the news, check sports scores, scroll through Facebook and text. Some even use them as real phones.

“Phone calls are the worst,” says Richard Husk, parent of two. “They’ll take a 45+ minute phone call with a random golf buddy while I’m with the kids trying to visit them.”

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Tyler McClure said his mum is constantly on Facebook and can’t do anything without her phone, while his dad “Googles the things he watches on TV while he’s watching TV”. Both parents tend to look at their phones rather than their grandchildren.

“My 75-year-old Vietnamese vet dad, who once called smartphones a ‘waste of time’ in 2009, now has his Bluetooth hearing aid connected to his phone and his truck,” says McClure, who lives in Tennessee with his family. “Honestly, his iPhone might as well be a Borg implant as the way he lives with it as a teenager.”

There may be a good reason for this

Not all screen time is the same. Sometimes the extra minutes spent staring allow them to understand the phone itself. Angela’s dad is better at his screen time than his mom, but he still takes 10 minutes to write every text message. (He signs them all, “XO”.)

“They spend more time looking at their phone than understanding what they’re actually looking at,” says Abbie Richie, founder and CEO of tech support company Senior Savvy. “For the first two seconds, an older person really needs to understand what they’re seeing. They have to deal with it. Their time on the device is longer due to the processing required.

The phone is also a tool for grandparents to connect with the people in their lives. Many people we spoke to said their parents enjoy reading things aloud on their phone, talking to family or anyone nearby about the weather, headlines or viral stories that may or may not be true.

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Many grandparents may find it difficult to physically keep up with or talk to their grandchildren. Emily Lakdawalla says her parents are pretty good at not using their phones in family situations, but her father still doesn’t interact much with the two grandchildren, aged 13 and 16. “He just stands in the kitchen and smiles puzzledly at them,” she says.

Alex Ebens’ father uses his phone to make a connection. “He’s not physically able to keep up with kids, so he takes them down YouTube rabbit holes, although I ask him not to,” Ebens explains.

Children, of course, may find displays more interesting than their older parents. Doing things together on them is a way to bond.

They learned it from their own children

Everyone struggles with staring at their phone too much. It is likely that grandparents picked up some of their habits from their own children and their children.

“The somewhat embarrassing reality is that they’re much better at not being distracted by their devices than my partner and I are,” says Lucas Mitchell, a father of two from Vancouver. His parents frequently use their iPhones and iPads, but know how to focus on the family.

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“You have to model the behavior you want them to have,” Richie explains. “It’s almost like a baby boomer using their phone like they’re a 12-year-old kid who got their phone for the first time and they’re screenager.”

Chat, buy them a smartwatch

In addition to setting a good example, there are other ways family members can hang up their parents on the phone. Having a conversation, without a phone, is a good way to start, but it’s not always easy.

“It’s a touchy subject,” says Richie. “You don’t usually have to think about grandparent parenting.”

Having conversations can set a good example for your own children, showing them how to ask for the attention they need. (If you’re on your own phone a lot, this could backfire.)

Depending on your budget, buying them a smartwatch like the Apple Watch is another option. It allows users to check incoming messages and news alerts without the risk of being distracted by other apps on the phone. You can show them how to use Screen Time tools on their devices. If they are unaware of the problem, a weekly report showing the number of hours spent scrolling can be a red flag.

You can also teach them how to use Do Not Disturb modes so they won’t be distracted when playing with kids, whether it’s kicking a ball or watching YouTube videos of professionals who kick balls.

The parents also relied on their younger and cuter family members to apply a touch of guilt. They will ask grandpa to put his camera down for a moment, or at least to share it.

“My daughter has learned to be entertained when she’s visiting,” says Andrea Button-Schnick, whose mother-in-law works or goesssips about her small town on her phone. “But she enforces the rule that dinner time is Grandma’s no-phone time.”

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