Eliza StJohn
Oct 3, 2016 · 4 min read

Distracted mother: Is my smartphone damaging my relationship with my children?

We live in an age where communication is on tap. Facebook, email and the web – accessed anytime, anywhere, from the palm of our hand.

On the face of it smartphones have made parenting easier – I can write a quick email at the school gates, entertain a bored child with a video or capture a proud moment on my camera. But is there a darker side to my phone use? Well, research still lags behind our widespread adoption of smartphones but recent studies suggest caregivers are more likely to respond harshly to children when highly absorbed in their smartphone and the mere presence of a phone on the table makes people sitting around feel more disconnected. Smartphones have even been linked to a 10% increase in unintentional childhood injuries with children engaging in more risk-taking behaviour when their caregivers are distracted.

The over-use of our smartphones is a subject many parents consider but often conveniently dismiss in favour of the positives. But however hard I try I can’t help thinking there must be a deeper impact I’m not seeing – are my children having to compete for my attention against my phone?

It was at my local park that the thought first came to mind. As I admired the kids and parents in the park, I realised that every parent was silently supervising their children with their faces glued to a screen. The kids played alone whilst the parents responded to their shout for attention with ‘hang on, just a minute, I’m just doing something…’ – without even looking up to meet their child’s gaze. And I get it, I really do – I was doing the same.

When I admitted my guilt to another Mum at the school gate it triggered a sheepish smile. She recalled how her five year-old daughter impersonates her mum swinging her on the swings in the park. Her daughter places one hand on the imaginary swing and another to the side at hip height scrolling through a pretend Blackberry. So it wasn’t just me – I wasn’t alone in my guilt.

But hey, at least we’re taking our kids to the park? Well yes, modern technology gives us the ability to work anytime from anywhere but does this work for our kids? Flexible hours and smartphones mean we’re not restricted to working from a set place at a set time but I sometimes fear my work simply spills over into my private life.

The boundaries have simply blurred, meaning my children no longer have my undivided attention when I’m with them. I may be physically more present but when we’re constantly in contact on email and phone I wonder if I’m mentally present for my children. I doubt it – we can’t divide our attention equally and it’s often the small person in front of us that has to wait for their turn.

Some would say the only winner is ‘the flexible employer’ and social media.

Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Our kids have grown up with it – maybe they’re just used to it? From day one we shared pictures of their birth, first smiles and cute outfits on social media. Surely the technology is here to stay, so why not get them used to it?

Well maybe our insistence of sharing daily moments of our child’s life is doing more than boring our childless friends crazy on Facebook. Maybe by viewing our babies through a screen and waiting for that perfect moment we’re actually missing the moment all together.

After all I’ve heard it said before – when we’re taking a photo of a moment we’re no longer ‘in’ the moment. And let’s admit it – we’ve all seen the filtered poses of children, parents and babies that didn’t just happen in the moment – they were made, posed and posted exclusively to keep up our appearances on social media.

So what do our kids think of the little black boxes in our hands? Do they think they’re more interesting than them? Do they represent an uninvited guest at the dinner table having a conversation that the child’s not privy too? Well according to a recent study 32% of children feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their phones.

But it’s hard. Childcare can be monotonous – hours of role playing, being barked instructions at and meltdowns can leave you absent-mindedly reaching for your screen and virtual adult company.

Your phone is the perfect pick-me-up and parenthood is hard enough without another judgement or sacrifice right? Well, yes – and I’m not proposing we all shun technology and search out those ancient Nokia’s but maybe we ought to control ourselves a bit more.

Leave our phones at the door with the keys, leave them off the dinner table and have designated device-free family time. Take the photos but don’t post them instantly and wait for the replies – set time aside when the kids aren’t around. There are even apps you can download to monitor or block your access to social media and email if you need help.

I’m not pretending I have the answers though – I’m still battling with the questions myself. I do personally feel that my phone usage has a darker side and it’s one I’m trying not to ignore. And however hard I try, I can’t help thinking that each time I check my phone, I’m checking-out of parenthood.

Eliza StJohn

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