Being a parent is not an easy task. We know that. We’re not expecting it to be easy. I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. But sometimes, especially as young parents, we feel overwhelmed with the child raising routine and look for some relief. And checking your mail, reading some stories on Facebook or just texting friends are all ways that we like to take a break.
But this simple solution can cause another problem. We talk a lot about screen time for children and parental control solutions but we shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin: “distracted parenting”. Quite often we parents pay more attention to our own electronic devices than to our children! Whether we’re at the playground looking at our phones while the children play or we’re actually doing something together with them and then stop to write an sms, the effect is always a negative one.
One survey (made a couple of years ago now) showed that almost a third of children “feel unimportant” when their parents are distracted by phones or other electronic gadgets. They also felt that their parents check their devices too often and mostly their parents agreed with that assessment.
Is technology to blame?
It’s not only the technology that’s at fault. What we call distracted parenting has been around since long before the rise of technology. We’ve all had days when we’ve forgotten to pick up the kids from school or we became so engaged in a conversation that we didn’t notice them wander off. What’s especially dangerous about technology though, is that it gives us so many more opportunities to be distracted. Especially if we feel compelled to check every incoming notification.
Distraction as stress relief
I mentioned that parenting can be very stressful. And that we often use our iPhones and tablets to escape this stress. But by responding to the phone call or automatically checking our mail when we’re focussed on our child, we immediately break the connection with them (often at the most critical moment). When we recognise this, it can cause even more stress and emotional tension. We can wind up being so conflicted and guilt ridden about how our own habits affect our kids. We can’t let this happen.
Balancing modern life realities with child development needs
We want to be a good role model for our children. We understand that children need their parents’ attention and that small talk about school, childish questions about the way things are and all other manner of small moments together add up to create a healthy childhood. Perhaps we’re even aware of how our kids’ concentration levels and brain development depend on some level, on their interaction with us, their parents.
How then, can we balance this deep need of our children to have our attention with the similarly constant demand for attention that comes from our devices? I suspect it’s beyond easy for you to say what’s more important to you, your child or your Facebook profile and yet somehow our children are coming away thinking they get 2nd place. The problem of distracted parenting reveals that we need to learn how to control our own screen time and not just that of our kids.
Be intentional about it. Decide to give your child your full attention when you’re together and to check your messages during appropriate pauses or at the very least to say to them “it’s time for mummy to check her messages now” rather than phasing out and suddenly ignoring them. If you find it challenging and sometimes slip up, don’t beat yourself up about it! We all have these moments, especially when we’re trying to take on such an all pervasive problem as screen distraction. If you catch yourself in the act of ignoring your child for the sake of your phone, apologise then and there. If you only realise after the fact, note what happened, think through what you would have liked to have done so that you’re ready to react differently next time and carry on with your day.
What tips and tricks have you tried to stop your devices interfering with your relationship with your kids? Let us know in the comments below.