Time for Parents to Unplug?

A recent New York Times article has spurred some interesting conversations among my friends with children. In “Parenting While Plugged In” reporter Julie Scelfo examined the issue of whether parents’ increasing use of cell phones, blackberries and other mobile devices is harming their kids. 

We already know it isn’t healthy to let our children spend hours each day on the computer or playing video games. But in her article, Scelfo poses the question of whether we as parents are harming our children by not restricting our own use of technology in their presence. She cites a 5-year MIT study which found that children often feel jealous and hurt when their parents are constantly checking their devices and logging on to social networks instead of parenting. One mother from Chicago is quoted saying that her 3-year-old son now sets the microwave timer to let her know when she’s spent too much time on her smartphone and not enough with him. 


Reading that made me stop and think about my own habits, especially when I’m around my young daughters. Do I furtively steal glances at my phone during playtime if I get a notification about a work email? Guilty. Do I occasionally pop on to my social networks to catch up with my friends when the girls and I are curled up on the couch watching a movie? Guilty again (side note: I cringed a few months ago when I watched the girls play with my camera and one of them exclaimed “Oh! Great picture! I have to put it on my Facebook!” She’s 5 and doesn’t have a Facebook account, but still, you get the point).

So what am I teaching my girls when I read that work email during playtime? Am I subconsciously telling them that work is more important than they are? I hope not, although did give me pause. I’d like to think that the amount of quality time I spend with them more than makes up for those brief time-outs I have to take to respond to an urgent email request.

Interestingly, one expert Scelfo quoted did point out that parents have always had distractions, and it’s impossible to say whether mobile technology is actually causing more distraction. Frederick J. Zimmerman is a professor at UCLA’s School of Public Health. He says: “Distracted time is not high-quality time, whether parents are checking the newspaper or their BlackBerry.”  He also notes that not all distracting technology is bad news for kids. Zimmerman points out that technology now allows many parents to work from home, giving them more time with their children. 

Although the article scared some moms I know into imposing temporary Facebook and email bans on themselves, I’m choosing instead to simply reevaluate how often I reach for that phone when I’m with my girls. Granted, ignoring that flashing green notification light can sometimes be tough, but they’re worth it - without a doubt.

-Contributed by Amy Erickson. Follow her @amyerickson