The holiday season may be the time of Christmas get-togethers and boozy New Year’s celebrations, but parents can expect their children to spend much of that time on their phones. Unfortunately, even the most fun and exciting “family times” often can’t compete with 21st-century entertainment – from Facebook chats to YouTube videos.

On average, teenagers spend more than seven hours on their screens for entertainment per day. That’s right: Almost an entire workday!

And it’s only becoming more popular. This past year saw an unprecedented rise in “influencer” marketing, as millions of American children turned to social media to find role models, who endorse products, share lifestyle hacks and project a certain image to their target audience – in many cases, children.

Corporate America knows that children are impressionable, turning to and trusting influencers as they learn how to live their lives. Targeting children is big business: In 2019, influencer marketing grew by about 50 percent. Children (and other Americans) were inundated with more than 3 million sponsored Instagram posts this year alone – up from 2.1 million in 2018.

This has a wide range of consequences, some positive and others not so much. Perhaps the most negative consequence of influencer marketing is that parents can feel drowned out by social media. Unable to connect with their distracted children, parental role models in the household often find themselves losing out to online influencers in cities and countries thousands of miles away.

Amid the festivities, let this holiday season also be a warning to parents across Maine – and around the country. As parents, we need to realize that we are the ultimate “influencers.” We were the first influencers, tasked with raising our children the right way and preparing them for life as adults.

Even as our children are being bombarded by online content, parents still have the most influence at home. Material gifts can be wonderful, but the most important gift that parents can give to their children is their presence.

Just be there. Listen. I am naturally an extrovert, but I work hard to listen to others and remember what they say. Sometimes even I’m distracted by social media, but I have been making a concerted effort to be with my children this holiday season – to truly be there, undistracted.

When you think about it, remembering what others tell you is the most flattering form of attention. It validates you as a human being. It shows that you matter. In fact, it’s the most important life lesson my own mother taught me. My mom, who is 86, recently fell and broke her tailbone. She is in a hospital now and cannot walk. These days, I am thinking of all the life lessons she gave me, and the most important one was to love your family, to honor your family and to be there for your family.

Let’s all remember that last one: Be there. Human beings are naturally social beings. We even emit chemicals, such as oxytocin, when we socialize. Those are what I call “happiness” chemicals. But you don’t get them from your computer or your phone or social media.

You get them face to face. There is no better time for face-to-face interactions than the holiday season, when families and friends gather together for the first time in months or even years. This holiday season is an opportunity to shed the outside noise and really focus on being there.

Parents, give your children the gift of presence. Trust me: As I help my mother through her daily struggles, I have come to understand that there is no more important gift.

Your presence means everything to them. No Instagram post can compete with that.


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