By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media Executive Editor, Parenting Content
Distracted parenting has been a hot topic recently. Some experts link the rise in smartphone ownership to a spike in emergency room visits for kids under 5. Others say kids are growing up starved for attention from smartphone-addicted parents who don't even look at their kids during dinner.
While most of us would like to think we have a healthier relationship with our kids (and our phones) than other folks, the facts don't back us up. But what's really going on? Sure, many of us are sneaking a Facebook update at the park, scrolling through email while building LEGOs, and texting during bathtime. But we're also learning how to integrate this amazing new technology into our lives as parents. Our smartphone's map helps us figure out where to drop off our kids for swim lessons; texting helps coordinate afterschool playdates; and there are so many great apps for both parents and kids -- useful when you're in a particularly slow line at the grocery store.
Still, if we parents are going to be smart about our smartphones, we do need to make a few rules for ourselves -- just as we make rules for our kids on devices. Smartphone users tend to underestimate the time they spend staring at their phones instead of their kids. It might feel like 20 seconds, but really three minutes have passed -- long enough for kids to wander off, get into trouble, or feel neglected.
A few suggestions for keeping our relationships with our phones more balanced:
- No devices during mealtimes. And if a topic comes up that you would normally google, add it to a list to look up later.
- Leave the game-playing (Words With Friends!) until after the kids are in bed.
- No texting or talking on the phone while driving.
- Put away the phone if the kids are swimming unattended or doing anything else potentially dangerous.
- Designate "no-tech zones" in your home -- and respect them!
Beyond these basics, only you can decide what works for your family. In general, kids need our attention, but not ALL THE TIME. So don't feel bad if you play Candy Crush while the kids are frolicking in gymnastics class. A few nods of encouragement will do the trick.
And remember, you are modeling behavior for your kids. So if you don't want your tween or teen to turn into a phone zombie, try not to act like one yourself.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.