More than 75 percent of the UK population are smartphone users as of 2015, and according to a study by the University of Derby, 13 percent of users are addicted. With most adults admitting to having used their phones during social interactions with others, it is likely many parents are on their phones even as they are interacting with their kids. What does this mean in terms of parenting?
Negative Impact on Mental Development
Technology-distracted parents may spend the same amount of time with their offspring as non-distracted parents as detailed in Translational Psychiatry, but studies suggest the former are less predictable, less reassuring, and therefore less emotionally connected to their children. As early as in infancy, children need repetition and reliability from their parents to develop their neural systems: when the brain is processing pleasure or other emotions, for instance, neurones in the regions of the brain that handle those emotions need to become activated at the same time. Parents whose attentions are split between their phones and their children can only provide interrupted attention, however, high-quality it would have been. With compromised emotional development, the kids become more prone to problems such as anxiety and depression.
Negative Impact on Behaviour
While younger parents may argue technology use does not make them neglectful, a study by Penn State University suggests that when parents are with their kids, but mentally elsewhere — checking Facebook for a few minutes, for instance — the kids understand they are not their parents’ priority. This is directly linked to tantrums, difficulty communicating with others, and poorer speech development. “Distracted parents” also have children who are more defiant and anti-social and also eventually choose to engage with technology rather than other people themselves.
Negative Impact on Parenting
Wall Street Journal reports that more and more children are entering emergency rooms with injuries resulting from their parents being temporarily distracted by smartphones. Statistics show these parents are also more likely to blame the injuries on external factors, rather than themselves. At the same time, children who try to draw their parents’ attention back from the devices often receive harsh words, physical punishment, or no response from the parents. The distracted parents, in effect, become even poorer parents.
It is understandable for parents, as adults, to find technology more interesting than playing or talking with their kids. By giving attention to those brightly lit screens, however, parents are devoting less to their kids, if only for brief moments. With childhood comprising only a limited number of precious and irretrievable moments, it may be wise for parents to put aside their gadgets and focus on the glowing faces before them, for the benefit of the whole family.