We talk a lot about screen time rules for our kids but, parents, we also need keep in mind our screen time as well. Parents who are always on their phone tend to multitask while they are with their children, leading to distracted parenting, or “parental overuse of hand-held technology, particularly cellphone and tablets, in the presence of children” as defined by an article published by the Michigan State University.
The bad news is distracted parenting doesn’t go unnoticed by the kids. A global survey by AVG Technologies of 6,000 children ages 8 to 13 revealed 52% of the children think their parents spend too much time on their mobile phones. Thirty-two percent felt unimportant when their parents used their phones during meal times, conversations, when watching television, and playing outside.
A 2018 study published by Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that “smartphones distract parents from cultivating feelings of connection when spending time with their children.”
“As enticing and useful as they might be, smartphones can make spending time with your children feel less meaningful than it would otherwise be,” the study’s co-author, Kostadin Kushlev, told PsyPost.
And it can have detrimental effects on them growing up, as various studies have found. A 2016 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry suggested that distracted parenting can affect babies’ brain development, particularly their ability to understand pleasure.
It can also affect their learning and development, especially for younger kids who are not capable of verbalizing their need for attention.
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even something as simple as engaging in back-and-forth conversations with a parent can boost a child’s language and brain development. In fact, language is the single best predictor of school achievement, according to another study.
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But if parents fail to carry on a conversation with them because they are distracted by a text alert or they feel the need to urgently reply to a message, “that break” in the flow of conversation can hinder their toddlers from learning, says psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in an interview with The Atlantic.
If we've worried you enough to put your phone down, then here are more ways to take a break:
1. Have a designated schedule to unplug from your devices. Mealtimes and playtime can be a gadget-free period so you can focus all your attention on your kids. In fact, having meals together can better help kids get along with others and make them more physically fit, says one study.
2. Turn your phone gray. Switching your phone’s screen from colored to black and white can “dull down attention-grabbing images and make infinite scrolling through Facebook less exciting.” This will shift your focus to more important things—your children.
To do it on your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. From there, you can switch your display into grayscale.
For Android phones, look for the “ultra power saving mode.” Apart from turning your screen to grayscale, it will also help you get the maximum battery life for your phone.
3. Turn notifications off. It’s easy to get distracted from the constant beeping of your phone, so keep it silent or turn the notifications off while you spend time with the kids.
4. Don’t forget that it’s also healthy for kids to have independent play. The most important thing is that you don’t beat yourself up for spending too much time on your phone. Parents also need moments away from their kids, and if you really have to take an important call, it’s the perfect opportunity to have them do independent play instead.
Your child also learns that he can enjoy his own company — he doesn't get bored when he is by himself—and that he can trust and rely on his own ability to do things, says Heidi Murkoff, author of the What to Expect When You're Expecting series.
The good news is today’s parents spend more time with their children compared to previous generations, as onerecent study in the United States suggested. We see that with our millennial moms and dads who take on child care readily because they are armed with a wealth of information found in books, videos, and websites.
And 54% of the parents in the AVG survey worried they were setting a bad example with their kids when it came to their phone use. That awareness is a good step. It means parents recognize that quality time is being mindfully present and emotionally attuned when they are with their kids. Along with the tips above, it's up to you to find that balance that works for your family life.