Like a lot of parents, I’m pretty attached to my phone. As a natural extension of my right hand, my phone serves as a portal of infinite human communication — one that has saved me from the awkwardness of genuine human interaction, and of course, kept me in the ever-important loop of viral cat videos. Priorities, people.
But for all the wonderful things my phone does (look Ma, people in the palm of my hand!), what it’s never done is made me a better parent.
Unlike my husband who is equally nomophobic, I don’t use my phone as a device to engage with my kids (mostly because I’m afraid they’ll drop it). We don’t watch those aforementioned cat videos together, nor do we engage in other app-friendly moments of parental bliss. I use my phone for business and pleasure because it’s there and frankly, so totally awesome.
And while my kids are without a doubt, my absolute favorite people on this good earth, I’m beginning to fear that my bionic phone-hand is telling them something different.
In a new study published by Pediatrics, researchers identified patterns of cell phone usage by caregivers and then came up with theories on mobile technology’s impact on caregiver-child relationships. Ooof.
Now this is the part of the blog post when I admit that I was scared to read the study findings. Lock-me-up-and-throw-away-the-key guilty of distracted parenting by way of iPhone, it came as no surprise that nearly 73 percent of caregiver participants used their mobile devices while interacting with children. As unfortunate as that statistic seems, it gets worse. The impact of mobile technology on our kids actually had less to do with usage than the degree of caregiver absorption in said mobile device.
So tell me, are you checking your phone really quickly while eating with your kids or are you … scrolling through your entire Instagram feed because you really like that one girl’s style and hey, her outfit is cute! I wonder what else she’s wearing on her Insta-feed? She got that from where? Lemme just pull up that store on Safari and hey! New members get 15 percent off their first order just for joining the mailing list, let’s see here … firstname.lastname@example.org … better check my email for that coupon code, there it is, lemme just click that email store link, oh those shoes are cute and on sale and yay! Fifteen percent off, add to cart, enter credit card — SOLD! New shoes will arrive at the end of the week … absorbed by your phone?
Lead study author and pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky told CNN, “(Absorbed caregivers) seemed very irritated and flustered at trying to balance their attention between parenting and whatever they were doing on their device.” Oh man, I am so guilty of this.
Radesky goes on to say, “Another major dynamic was that the child kept trying to make conversation and the caregiver would respond in a way that was delayed or didn’t seem attuned to what the child was saying.” Yep, guilty of this, too.
So what do kids do when a parent is more absorbed by the lure of their phone than by the opportunity to properly parent? They act up, because hey, negative attention is better than no attention. But before we go all, “DON’T DO THAT! CAN’T YOU SEE I’M
WATCHING A VIRAL VIDEO OF DOGS DANCING IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING!” on our kids, maybe we need to stop and consider the precious opportunities with our kids that we’re giving up when we devote our attention instead to the lunch status updates of our high school alumni.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but mealtimes with our kids offer an invitation for genuine connection with the people we love most. Whataya say we put the phone down; rumor has it that the best stuff happens when we stop and look up.