You’re traveling on the train with your child. You take out your phone to check your messages. You’re waiting for your food to arrive at the restaurant with your family. And your husband takes out his phone to check his email.

Smart phones have crept into many aspects of our lives, whether we have consciously allowed it or not. You might think that your occasional “quick glances” at your phone could not possibly have any impact on your child, but over time, these do add up.

When parents spend more time on their phone than with their kids

1. Compromised Safety and Sense of Security

It is a common sight to see parents at public places such as neighbourhood playgrounds staring at their phones instead of supervising their young children at play. Some parents spend extended minutes staring at their devices and only look up for 1-2 seconds to check on their children, before returning their gazes to their devices. This inevitably compromises on the safety of young children under their supervision.

For the case of newborns and infants, studies have shown that they need to be held and touched in order to gain weight. They also need to be picked up when they are crying so that they can be assured with a sense of safety. This will help them grow and acquire curiosity, confidence, as well as independence when they eventually become toddlers exploring their environment.

When parents of newborns and infants are frequently distracted by their devices and absorbed in their touchscreens, they are unable to be present to meet these physical needs of their babies which go beyond providing food and shelter.

 2. Feelings of Sadness and Unimportance

Narratives of studies of children with parents who are addicted to their phones reveal that children reported feelings of unimportance and a hidden sense of sadness when they had to compete with technology for their parents’ attention. 

3. Shorter Attention Spans and Lower Intelligence 

Research has repeatedly shown that the development of attention span in young children is built on social activities whereby the parent’s attention significantly affects the child’s. Parents whose eyes wander during parent-child interaction due to technological distractions may be raising children with shorter attention spans and lower intelligence levels. The impact is long and far. Children’s ability to sustain attention has been a strong indicator for success in later life, especially in domains such as language acquisition and problem-solving.

 4. Social Awkwardness 

Ms Portia Martil, a Montessori Teacher, highlights that when parents spend excessive time on their phones, children tend to be socially awkward since no sociable environment is provided between parent and child at home. In addition, Ms Martil opined that at social gatherings, these children may behave in an overly active manner to strive for the attention that they were deprived of at home.

How Can I Kick The Bad Habit? 

Are you addicted to your smartphone

Device makers and app designers have developed mobile technology to be highly intuitive, convenient, easy and therefore unfortunately, addictive for many. This implies that we as parents need to be vigilant about how we use them, especially around our children who are learning from us every moment.

See also: How to have a digital detox

Here are four tips on how you can reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone while being with your child:

  • Mute Notifications 

Turn off all notifications or switch off your phone completely whenever possible so that you are not compelled to attend to your phone over something that is not truly urgent nor in need of your immediate attention/action. 

  • Draw Some Boundaries 

Ms Martil stresses the importance of parents limiting their use of the phone. Set some rules for yourself about when and where you get to use your phone when at home. For example, do not allow phones in the bedrooms or at the dining table because these are the places where you are likely to be bonding with your child over meaningful and intimate conversations. 

  • Don’t Get Too Comfy 

Do not allow yourself to be too comfortable when using the phone while you are with your child. For example, do not plonk yourself on the couch and text away. Have a “phone rug” where you stand to reply messages if need be.

  • Gentle Reminders

Rope in your spouse to nag (lovingly) at you! Be open with your spouse about your vulnerability and how this is an area you are working on to improve. Give your spouse the permission to remind you gently when you get carried away with your phone whilst being with the kids.

It is completely understandable that you take a moment, let down your guard and escape into your phones to relieve the stresses of parenting. Mobile smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of modern-day living. However, always remember moderation is key. As Dr Seuss famously said, “Remember that life’s a great balancing act!

By Rachel Lim

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