Ignoring Your Kids For Your Smartphone Does Not Make You A Disengaged Parent
We are all familiar with this modern-day trope. The playground parent deeply absorbed in their Smartphone, ignoring their precious snowflake and zoning out for a bit. The dad in the daycare parking lot answering a few emails before running in to pick up his little ones. The mom at the grocery store scrolling her Facebook feed in the checkout line while her kid is whining for a pack of gum. Society is quick to blame Smartphones for a parent being distracted or disengaged. However, parental distractions are nothing new. I think a disengaged parent is going to be that way no matter what and an engaged parent will be engaged even if they love their iPhone a little too much (guilty). Basically, ignoring your kids for your Smartphone does not make you a disengaged parent.
There is a very interesting article from Forbes detailing this very subject and I found myself nodding along with so much of it but this part in particular really resonated:
We need to stop looking for scapegoats. We need to stop blaming external forces and start taking responsibility for ourselves. Sure, there is plenty of bad parenting. But putting down the smartphone is not going to automatically create good parents. Instead, we need a cultural shift. We need to remember that the biggest impact we can have on the future comes in the form of our children. We need to teach them see the world in the way we want it look.
With or without devices, most of the parents I see could engage more with their children. And it is not just about quantity of time, it is also about quality of time. Play video games with your kids. Watch animated movies with your kids. Read chapter books to your kids. They are little people, and like all people, when you engage in their world, they become interested in engaging in yours.
Parents paying attention to something other than their children is definitely not just an issue in our modern times. It is a tradition as old as time of a kid jumping up and down wanting something from mom or dad and the parent being engrossed in the task at hand. 100 years ago, it was probably churning butter or something else old-timey. 75 years ago, it was the radio where the parents listened closely and everyone had to shut the hell up so they could hear. 50 years ago, the TV was brand new and mom had her “stories” and you best occupy yourself until it’s over. The TV was king for a long time and now, it’s undoubtedly Smartphones that distract us the most.
I only got my iPhone this past May so I can easily make a comparison about whether or not I am a less engaged parent with that addictive little device in my hand. I can say with absolute confidence that it has not changed the amount of attention I give my children. Before my phone, I read a lot on my Kindle/iPad or ACTUAL BOOKS MADE OF PAPER (they do still exist) and have shushed or shooed away my children while busy with it. The phone has not made it any different. My kids play together constantly and in my mind, that is how it should be. If I’m on my phone and they want to tell me something, I either put down my phone or tell them to wait a minute, depending on the situation. Just like with anything else I do including cooking dinner, folding laundry or writing these posts.
There are parts of the day where I make a conscious effort to be an engaged parent just like in my pre-iPhone life. I read them stories in the evening or listen to Claire read from one of her chapter books. I lay on Ben’s bedroom floor and listen to him tell me about his good guy/bad guy fights and which Ninja Turtle kicks the most butt. A Smartphone can only interfere with this if I let it, same as a good book or TV show. And I don’t, most of the time- but when I do, I don’t beat myself up. I know where my heart is as a mom and 15 minutes spent playing on Twitter won’t negate all the good I do. Just like if a disengaged parent decides to ignore their phone, it won’t make a difference because they just weren’t “there” to begin with.