No Parent Wants To Be Told To ‘Put Down The Phone,’ But This Expert Has A Really Good Reason You Should

mom-distracted-phoneWe’ve all seen smarmy PSAs warning us to turn off our phones and be in the moment, live life to the fullest, or whatever other inspiring-yet-shamey message the creators can come up with. They’re easy to ignore because they’re ridiculous and often reference extremes that would never happen in our real lives, but one expert has a compelling reason why parents should work on putting down the phone and becoming less distracted in general.

NBC affiliate KVLY recently spoke to Sanford Health Child Psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Fleissner, who emphasized that while distracted parenting can put kids in physical danger, the bigger issue is how it affects our kids’ social and emotional development.

Dr. Fleissner says, “when we are parenting, we are teaching our children to read social cues.” She says, “we do that with eye contact, facial recognition and monitoring their safety.”

She adds, “remember how we always tell our children that we have eyes on the back of our heads? We know what they are doing even if we can’t see them. They’re the same… They totally know when you disconnect with them.”

Fleissner points out that most parents aren’t ignoring their children on purpose, but with increasingly busy schedules it can happen without us even realizing it. There are very few moments in the day during which we’re just engaging with our children and focused on nothing else.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that gave me pause. So often when parents are warned about cell phone use or distracted parenting, people are quick to emphasize the danger. “Put your phone down,” they warn, “or your child will fall off a slide and break their face.” It seems extreme and I think most of us try to take risk management into account at all times, even when we’re doing something, so it’s easy to brush those warnings off. I know I’m already excellent at prioritizing my children’s safety over changing my Facebook status, but reading Fleissner’s advice made me wonder if I’m as good at focusing on their social and emotional needs when I have other things to worry about.

Examining the social and emotional affects of constant distraction is concerning to me. I have two small kids and I work from home, so I am busy and multitasking most hours of the day. It’s almost impossible not to be. I try to keep my kids entertained and engaged as much as I can. I plan art projects and read books, but I wonder if I’m doing as much as I could be, or should be. I wonder if my kids are getting enough good, old-fashioned interaction with me, even outside of planned activities.

Fleissner says altering the hierarchy of what’s important in your day can help free up your focus during the week. She also recommends setting aside specific times during the day that are distraction-free, emphasizing meal times and when you’re in the car (DUH). It’s challenging, but it’s also vitally important. It’s easy to think our kids are fine as long they’re not in physical danger. We’d do well to focus a bit more on their social and emotional needs from us as well.


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