Can Parents Buck the Cell Phone Guilt?

Young father lying on grass bed operating mobile phone and the kid sitting on his back in the park.

At the end of the long day with my kids, I’m as drained as my cell phone battery. Both of us are begging to be recharged and for no one to need us or touch us for at least the next hour. Please.

I’ll be the first to admit that I reach for my cell phone frequently when I’m around my kids. If they’re munching happily on chicken nuggets, taking a while on the potty, or running around the backyard, I can’t resist taking a few minutes to check on the world outside my home. While I love staying at home with my children, I can’t stand the isolation. In my pocket is a portal to connection – relationships, news, current events, and excitement. I can reconnect with a friend whom I haven’t seen since graduation, or read the latest breaking news anytime I want.

There are piles of research telling me I should feel guilty about how this habit is affecting my kids. Children frequently felt secondary to their parents’ device, according to one study. Over half of the children surveyed felt that their parents checked their phones too often, with nearly a third saying their parents have been distracted during a conversation with their children.

From a child’s perspective, this is awful. From a parent’s perspective, I know what it’s like to try to listen to a 10 minute joke that has no punch line when you just really need to see if that text was your friend cancelling your play date that afternoon.

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However, a third of the children surveyed said that a parent checking their phone in the middle of a conversation made them feel unimportant – something I never want my children to feel. Even if (let’s face it) the conversation is typically unimportant.

When parents turn to our cell phones, it’s often for something necessary – scheduling a pediatrician appointment, checking work emails, or researching what that best treatment for diaper rash is. 50 years ago, children probably felt like their moms spent too much time flipping through cookbooks and their dads with their noses behind a newspaper. It’s impossible to give our children our undivided attention throughout the day.

It’s also probably not good for them, either. Independence is an important virtue to develop in children, experts remind us. Children need opportunities to explore the world on their own in order to develop confidence and capability. Perhaps I don’t need to feel guilty about spending 15 minutes looking for that night’s dinner recipe on Pinterest while my children wander off and go play with their blocks.

That being said, not all of my cell phone use is productive. Too often it turns into a form of escapism when I’m exhausted and need some time off from parenting, yet I’ve found that scrolling through my Facebook feed that’s full of childless friends vacationing around the world never makes me feel any better.

In fact, use of numerous social media platforms is linked to…

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