Mom on computer with daughter

Distracted Parenting

We always hear how bad too much screen time is for the kids, but when it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about their kids screen time – and more about their own!

Our society is reaching peak criticism of digital devices – smart phones in particular – that are always close on hand and demanding our attention.  Even so, emerging research suggests that a key problem remains underappreciated and it involves kid’s development, but not what you think.  More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents.

It is said that Language is the single best predictor of school achievement and the key to strong language skills is the back and forth fluent conversations between young children and adults.  A problem therefore arises when this adult-child cueing system so essential to early learning is interrupted – by a text or a quick check-in on Facebook etc.  An economist has even noted and tracked a rise in children’s injuries as smartphones become more prevalent.  These findings attracted a decent bit of media attention to the physical dangers posed by distracted parenting in addition to the impact on cognitive development.

Occasional parental inattention is not catastrophic and may even build resilience, but chronic distraction is another story.  Smartphone use is being associated with a form of addiction.  Distracted parents grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted and they miss or misread emotional cues.  A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when they just want attention.  Short, deliberate separations can of course be harmless for parents and children, but this sort of separation is different from the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through his or her non-engagement that sends the message that the child is less valuable than an email.  This could well be the worst model of parenting – being physically present but not there emotionally.

One piece of good news is that young kids are prewired to get what they need from parents and a pair of pudgy little hands poking and grabbing at you will quickly jerk your attention back.

Adults are suffering under the pressure of modern day life feeling like they are always working, always parenting and always need to be available to anyone who needs them in addition to trying to stay on top of daily life and chores.

Under the circumstances, it’s easier to focus our anxieties on our children’s screen time than to pack up our own devices and lead by example.  If we can get a grip on our “technoference” as some psychologists are calling it, we are likely to find that we can do so much more for our children by simply doing a whole lot less.  Food for thought!?

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