I was busted at a hockey practice, much to my chagrin. It wasn’t even a game, it was just a practice, but kids want you to watch and see their accomplishments and to share them with you, no matter what. Is my phone addiction harming my kid?
“Mom, did you see my goal?!”
“Uh, I — your goal?!” I grinned guiltily at my son.
“Mom! You missed it! You’re always on your phone!”
Busted. And embarrassed. And there’s no easy way out of that one.
For parents, it has always been hard to balance our personal needs with those of our kids. Raising children is ongoing, relentless work and some of us are better equipped for it than others. But at times we all need a break. Many of us have come to find those much-needed “breaks” in the mindless mini breaks found on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Words With Friends and the like. It’s not that we’re neglectful and it’s not that we don’t love our children. It’s because we are trying to carve out more time for ourselves. Yet child psychologists are saying that our cumulative inattention is actually harming our young children who need our undivided attention.
Is My Phone Addiction Harming My Kid?
While occasional inattention on mom or dad’s part is no catastrophe, chronic distraction can be. According to social scientist, psychologist and author Sherry Turkle, in her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (Basic Books; 2011), kids are often hurt when their parents prefer a device. That’s the way they see it: Choosing interacting with a device over interacting with them. This is the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through her non-engagement that the child is less valuable than her phone. Some call it the worst model of parenting imaginable: always present physically, yet only partially present emotionally.
In her studies as director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle conducted more than 300 kid interviews, honing in on the subject of distracted parenting.
“Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their device instead of paying attention to them,” Terkle says. “This includes at a meal, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events,” she adds.
Very Little Substantial Research
Distracted time is not high-quality time, Turkle says. But Turkle doesn’t blame parents who are often charged with balancing work, home and multiple kids. Technology is such that parents are often mixing home life with work now and separating the two has become a battlefield.
Yet there is still very little substantial research on how parents’ constant use of technology affects child development. According to a study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, parents’ use of technology may not only be robbing families of learning opportunities, but also causing negative interactions as well as internal conflicts and tension at home. Engaged parenting — talking and explaining things to children, and responding to their questions — remains the bedrock of early childhood learning. Experts agree that more research is needed to find out the extent of harm on child development among the constant use of smartphones and other technology by their parents.
For myself, when I established a personal phone ban at home between 4 and 8 p.m. — those hours bridging when the kids are most underfoot at home — my children were glad. I realized I can’t really have my cake and eat it too. I need to choose the kids when they need me and put the fun and games on my phone aside for when I really DO have “me” time.
Managing Phone Addiction at Home (For ALL of You)
• Set boundaries. Create a family plan that includes unplugged times of day for all of you together.
• Identify top stressors. As a family, talk out loud about which parts of your mobile devices are most stressful (such as the sense of comparing your friends’ lives on Instagram with your own and how your own may not seem as good which is a total illusion).
• Be a good role model. Remember, your kids are watching you. Some informal studies indicate that a high percentage of kids indicate that they would like for their parents to turn off their technology.