Cell Phones and the Dangers of Distracted Parenting

When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time—and more about their own.

It is never easy for a parent to balance their own needs, and desires, with those of their child. Fortunately, children do not always need or even want their parent’s full attention. They just need it ‘reliably enough’. In fact, some degree of separateness is necessary and healthy for development. This article makes the case that our modern preoccupation with smart phones, however, has tipped the balance in an unhealthy direction. Parents these days, despite spending lots of time in the physical presence of their child, are frequently distracted by their cell phone and thus are frequently inattentive totheir child.

This is disrupting the normal healthy pattern of parent-child communication that research demonstrates is required for a child’s healthy development.The article emphasizes that parents must make the effort to get off their phones while interacting with their children. The author Erika Chistakis is sympathetic towards parents. She understands how hard that effort can be. We all have become essentially addicted to the use of our cell phones. The good news is, although it may be hard, you can do it! You can put down your cell phone. And here is the reason why.

This is how parent-child communication is supposed to work. The infant and young child’s brain is wired to need and expect the parent to reliably communicate with the child in a responsive back and forth manner. This type of interaction is referred to as “serve and return” or “conversational duet.” The average parent on their part is wired to be reliably attentive and responsive to the child’s cues of wanting to communicate. This type of communication is essential for the development of a child’s language skills, social abilities, emotional regulation and even for proper brain growth.

When parents are with their child but frequently engaging with their cell phone it leads to repeated periods of inattentiveness to the child. This causes the parent to miss and to misinterpret the child’s need for responsive interaction. In turn, the child can no longer reliably count on the parent’s responsive attention. A child may react to this chronic inattentiveness by working extra hard to get their parent’s attention, in the form of disruptive behaviors. Unless a parent is attuned to the underlying ‘message’ the disruptive behavior is communicating, a parent may become irritated or even angry with the child, thus further disrupting the relationship. Sadly, if this goes on too long, without the parent ‘getting it’, negative disruptive behavior for the purpose of getting attention can become incorporated into a child’s life long pattern of social relationships.

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