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Smartphone parenting
First Years Jul 9, 2020
5 Minutes

Smartphone use in front of your kids? Not as bad as you may think…

We have all been told (understandably) by media, policy makers and academics that using your smartphone around your kids is bad. However, the reality is that smartphones ARE a part of our lives and no use at all is unrealistic. So what do you get? Typically a whole lot of guilt. Which as a parent you’re probably getting enough of anyway! Ironically, guilt and feeling bad about yourself is most certainly not a recipe for good parenting either. A new study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry tells a slightly different story about the impact of smartphone use on parenting. Bottom line: chances are – it’s probably time for you to put the guilt away….

The research suggests that impact of your smartphone use on your parenting is not as simple as is made out… 

Like most things in life – there is no black and white. Intuitively (of course), if you are one of those people who are totally immersed or dependent on your phone, that’s one thing. We are talking compulsive checking every few minutes, social media scrolling and family members hassling you for your overuse. It goes without saying that is NOT good. Not good for you, your mental health or for your kids. 

But what about more realistic ‘moderate’ smartphone use? 

Although phone ‘dependence’ is probably on the rise most conscious parents already try and seek to avoid the extremes. Especially in front of our kids. Most of us are probably more in the camp of taking a minute to text someone back about a plan later, to take a quick call to deal with some admin or even to receive something uplifting from a friend. What about that? How bad is that really for your relationship with your child? At present the mainstream notion is that ‘all’ smartphone use in front of our kids is ‘bad’. 

Not all smartphone use is created equally when it comes to parenting quality: 

This particular study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry takes a much more in depth, nuanced look than others. Taking many elements of phone use over time from 3,500 parents and really crunching the data. The conclusion is pretty interesting: 

‘This robust pattern highlighted that the impact of parental phone use depended on the degree to which use interferes with family time. [In fact] the pattern of interactions robustly posited to a positive relation between smartphone use and parenting, especially at low levels of family displacement and conflict.’

Translation? 

At a sensible low level (using to communicate briefly with friends/family) smartphone can actually be a marginal parenting positive. For family relations and for stress relief. The study also found that typically following time on the phone most parents:

Typically ‘followed by an intensive burst of highly attentive parenting.’ 

The study also noted that ‘given simultaneous benefits of relational up-keep and stress-relief, such time-limited use might have positive implications for parenting. Indeed when studies have examined parental calling and texting for communication purposes a positive relation with parenting emerges.’ 

So not all bad then! When do we have to be more concerned about smartphone use and how to handle it: 

Of course as above, most sensible people know that more intensive/immersive phone use can be detrimental. The study looks at the warmth and attachment levels between the parent and child. Of course, when you are highly immersed in something else this can lead to disengagement from your child. It can also create stress and conflict in the household. Particularly if other members of your home are bothered by the extent of the phone use which can cause conflict within the home. Young children pick up on this. Very frequent checking, obsessive social media use or being extremely distracted by work on your phone with your child is obviously not going to do your relationship with them or others any favours. Not to mention cause stress related issues for yourself. 

It’s all about the ‘how’ we use our smartphones: 

So how to use your smartphone in the ‘smartest’ way when it comes to your child? This is where this study is interesting. It is not the smartphones themselves  – it is about ‘how’ we use them….

As above: now and again for positive things = evidence of a small parenting positive! However, one thing to watch is that many of us now use our phones for work as well as for friends, social media and family. That can also create issues. 

The power of the ‘transition’: this applies to your smartphone too: 

Our resident psychotherapist and childhood trauma expert Christophe Sauerwein talks all about the power of the ‘transition’. What is this? 

Click here for the detail but in a nutshell: it is about taking a ‘pause’ between work and starting to interact with your children. Allowing your mind to switch from one task to another. Enabling you to be present.

Taking a couple of calls/texts here or there as above can even be beneficial. If however you’re going to be distracted by work and stressed by your phone then it is best to separate that in front of your children. Christophe talks about the positive benefit of taking a few minutes in between things like finishing work before interacting with your children. This is in order to switch your mind ‘off’ from what you had been doing and prepare you to be mentally present for interaction with your children. 

How do we practically do this? 

This can be anything from taking a walk from the station to home in order to switch off from work to going out to get a cup of coffee. Making the decision to switch from one task to focus on your children is hugely positive and powerful. It is also about setting a boundary. It is about finding what works for your own mind. What helps you switch from one task to be present for your kids? Everyone is different. 

Bottom line: 

It may sound obvious, but when it comes to smartphone use around your kids it is not all created equally. The ‘how’ you use it is key. You are not a terrible parent if you are intermittently on your phone in front of your kids. That is our life and existence these days. It is time to shelve the guilt as this study suggests it can even be marginal positive to having them around for your parenting ability. If it is something that is going to make you feel organised, happy and connected. If however you find yourself obsessively on the phone, checking it and very distracted that of course is another matter. Most of us are not doing this and certainly not more than now and again when something is going on. So: time to ditch the guilt. As always, it’s all about Goldilocks: not too much, not too little – ‘just right’! 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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