In recent times, there’s been plenty of hype in the media (and on social networking sites) about parents paying more attention to their devices than their children. These are just a few headlines I came across in my research.
“Step away from your mobile! Parents are warned phone addiction could damage bond with their child.” (1).
“Put down that cell phone! Study Finds Parents Distracted by Devices” (2).
“Parents busy with smartphones not paying enough attention to kids” (3).
As a mom with a smart phone, I have mixed feelings about this concept.
Let me begin by describing my (our) typical smartphone use … take a photo (or twenty), add to the grocery list, record an appointment, set up a reminder to pick up a windshield wiper, check the Facebook newsfeed, browse Pinterest for Father’s Day gift ideas, send a text message to my brother, take a phone call from Grandma, place a Walmart order, look up a recipe for tonight’s meal, browse pictures of beavers or muskrats, Google something (personality types, for example), investigate the weather forecast, watch a Franklin (more Big M than me), play the odd alphabet or number game (again, more Big M than me), listen to the latest country hits, craft and send a birthday card to a friend, read an ebook about a little raccoon who misses his momma, make a money transfer, update a Google document, check my email, make a video of Little M’s first steps. The list seems endless, and in a lot of ways, it’s utterly amazing that so much can be done with such a little device. We have the whole world in our hands, it seems.
Now, let me tell you WHEN I do most of these things … WHEN MY KIDS ARE SLEEPING! My phone use “peaks” during nap time or after bedtime … unless, of course, we’re doing something together WITH my phone (looking at photos of cousins who live far away, for example). I browse Pinterest, I check out Facebook, I shop online, I read an e-book about parenting, I text, I even play the odd game of cribbage with my husband … all those “naughty” things that moms are so often condemned for in the media.
Naturally, the majority of my photos and videos on my phone are of my kids, so my phone is present in these instances. Yes, I have sent a text message with my kids present. Yes, I have taken a phone call. Yes, I have added to a grocery list when my kids are around. Yes, we use my phone for craft and recipe ideas to build together. Yes, we use my phone to listen to music. Some days, we use my phone lots and some days, we hardly use it all. My phone has enabled our family to get rid of extra bills … a landline and a separate internet contract. It has eliminated the need for multiple “devices” … a home phone, a camera, a video camera, and a portable DVD player, to name a few. In the last year, my smartphone has become a welcome and convenient addition to our everyday life.
Now, I am not trying to justify my (our) phone use (though I do feel it is legitimate, meaningful, and positive … for the most part). I make every effort to educate my children (though they are awfully young yet) about when phone use is acceptable and what kind of phone use is acceptable. I set limits on my use and their use (no phones at the dinner table, for example). But I think there are too many assumptions in the media about how parents are using their phones, and with that, at times, comes some unnecessary judgement and guilt-mongering. One news article even went so far as to say, “‘You can get back to that information, you can get back to that technology later, but your kids are going to grow up and you’re going to miss them,’ … And that is time you won’t get back” (4). Good gracious. I think parents have enough to feel guilty about without feeling guilty about using their phones in a meaningful way. Yes, I’ve had my phone in my hand while pushing my kids on the swing … because I am trying to capture the joy they exude while swinging. Yes, my phone is generally close by when we’re playing on the deck … because we’re listening to some music. Yes, I carry my phone around in the grocery store … because that’s where I keep my list.
The purpose of this piece is simply to draw attention to the negative attitudes associated with smartphones, in particular, how parents are using smartphones to the detriment of their children’s overall well-being. Perhaps this is true in some cases (or a lot of cases); I cannot be sure (and I am not prepared to talk about that here). What I am sure of is this … smart phones are not going anywhere. In fact, what we’re able to do on our phones now will only become more extensive as time goes on. And let’s face it, parents can be distracted or preoccupied in any number of ways … not just by their phones. This is a reality of parenting and a reality of growing up. I am sure each of us can think of ways in which our own parents were “busy” or distracted in an age before smartphones … a rough day at work, a television program, or a load of laundry to fold. Distraction is inevitable … so I think we should be a bit more cautious in our condemnation of parents and their smartphone use. This is the world in which we and our children live, learn, and grow. We need to embrace the technology that exists. We’ve got the whole world in our hands.
4. “Parents busy with smart phones not paying enough …” 2014. 17 Jun. 2014 <http://kdvr.com/2014/03/10/parents-busy-with-smart-phones-not-paying-enough-attention-to-kids/>
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