We’ve all heard the statistics on the rapidly growing addiction to our phones and what effect this is having on our happiness, productivity, and safety among many other things. We obsessively check our multiple social media and email accounts –starting first thing in the morning before we even step foot out of bed, at any lull in our day, at the dinner table, even passively scrolling at traffic lights. However, have you ever given pause to take tally of how often you are giving your attention to your phone over your family? Or maybe you call it “multi-tasking,” (which you claim you’re good at), as you engage in that hilarious group text with your girlfriends while also attempting to listen to your child’s latest saga about today’s recess drama. While we try to convince ourselves that the pervasiveness of smartphones isn’t causing distracted parenting, the new research emerging on the topic is sobering. Recent research reveals that over a third (34%) of children feel that their parents spend too much time on their phones, and for some of these children, research has found that it makes them feel sad. Aside from these reported feelings of sadness, there have been interesting studies published about how we may parent differently when we are absorbed in our smartphones. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that followed 55 caregivers sharing a meal with their children at a fast-food restaurant. During the observation, 40 of the caregivers used their phones during mealtime. The results of the study showed that highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior, either physically or verbally with a scolding tone of voice. Research results such as these seem to prove that our children are starving for our attention and affection; however, to give them the attention they deserve, we need to lift our gaze from our phones and practice the lost art of being present with our children.
Let me share a few personal stories that inspired me to write this post. A friend of mine told me last week that her 4-year-old daughter got upset with her after being scolded, saying, “The only thing you ever do is yell at me.” My friend thought about her daughter’s comment after she went to bed, and it brought her to tears, because as she explained, “With being busy with my younger, less independent daughter, I often times only passively listen to my 4-year-old and tend to only give her my full attention when she is misbehaving and I have to reprimand her. I realized that she is craving my full, present attention. The next day, my friend took her daughter on a mommy-daughter breakfast date, where she was intentional about giving her full attention to her daughter, asking her questions and truly listening to her responses. She said that not only was it the best part of her day, but her child hasn’t been able to stop talking about wanting to go on another special mommy-daughter date since.
While I am not personally struggling to divide my attention between two children, as a new mom, I noticed with unease that I had been glued to my smartphone during my frequent breastfeeding sessions with my son, as I sleepily scrolled through social media feeds and work emails that sent me into an anxiety-stricken state. When a friend of mine mentioned that she was giving up social media for the month of February, I decided to join her in an attempt to break my own habit of habitual phone checking and spend more time soaking up precious time with my little one.
Mamas, I challenge you to move from distracted to deliberate, present parenting. Implementing a more present parenting style not only improves your relationship with your children, but also sets a good example for them. Furthermore, it helps your children with the skill of having quality conversations –Being able to effectively communicate with others, reading social cues and practicing emotional intelligence.
So what are some ways you can trade in the relationship with your smart devices for a better relationship with your children? Below are three examples that you could implement.
- Consider installing an app that tracks your smartphone habits, like QualityTime or Moment. This could help you to become more aware of how often you are using your smartphone during family time, and set a specific usage goal and track your success in meeting that goal.
- Try establishing no-device rules at certain times of day or places in the home. For example, maybe you deem that between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., no one in your family checks their devices and instead enjoys quality time together sharing a meal, playing a game, etc. If you really want to limit distractions and you have an iPhone, you can place your phone on “Do Not Disturb” (Settings à Do Not Disturb). Some people are nervous about placing their phone on Do Not Disturb in the case of someone needing to contact them in an emergency, so you can customize the settings to allow repeat calls from the same person to come through or select particular contacts who can reach you during your period of call restrictions.
- Start a tradition of a special ritual or activity that you do with your children or family where you are totally present. This could be that mommy-daughter breakfast date example, a special bedtime routine, a walk you take as a family around the neighborhood after dinner, etc. Ask your family what activity they would enjoy best or maybe it’s an existing activity that you already enjoy but simply need to eliminate distractions from. For our family, this meant eliminating devices from our Sunday family dinner and quality time together that follows our meal.
I hope that these examples inspire you to take the next step towards present parenting and a more fulfilling relationship with your family.
So how did I fare without social media and obsessively checking my phone in February? Well, this is what I can say – During those late night nursing sessions with my son, I discovered a new and irreplaceable bond with him. I can draw you the exact shape of the birth mark found on the back of his neck and can sing you a few of our favorite lullabies that I learned and now sing to him. I gave up nothing I’ll miss to gain memories I’ll never forget.