Childrearing

Let Me Explain Why Cell Phones Don’t Ruin Parent-Child Relationships, After I Finish This Candy Crush Level

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mom on cell phone while daughter readsHave you ever made your kid wait to finish telling you a story while you send a work email or check the text message you just got? Well, congratulations on ruining your parent-child relationship with the evils of technology, you monster.

Children’s magazine Highlights recently released their annual “State of the Kid” survey, and the super-scientific results are in. When asked, “Are your parents ever distracted when you are trying to talk to them?”, 62% of children responded “Yes”, and of those, 28% blamed cell phones for their parents’ distraction. Cue some judgy-pantsing from Highlights‘ director of parenting editorial, Sylvia Barsotti about the omnipresence of communications technology:

Telling a child (or a puppy) to “give me a minute,” or “when I’m off the phone,” or trying to finish up what you were doing and giving them lip service just doesn’t cut it. They know when you’re listening and when you’re not—and one way or another, you pay the price for the latter.

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We heard from kids loud and clear (62 percent of survey respondents) who told us that yes, they feel their parents are sometimes distracted when they want to talk to them. And what was the number one distraction? Technology—particularly cell phones.

There are three main apply-head-to-desk moments in this for me. First of all, parental distractions have been a thing since long before the existence of smartphones. My dad would come home from work and more or less instantaneously fall asleep in the recliner. I’m pretty sure cave-moms and cave-dads told Thog Junior, “Hang on one minute! Me trying to hunt mammoth!” Someone who’s constantly consumed by a cell phone isn’t going to magically become an amazing parent if you take their favorite gadget away. I know blaming technology for all societal ills can be fun, but you know what else is not just fun, but also actually useful? Technology.

Second, while of course your kids should have a pretty secure spot somewhere around the top of your priorities list, you can’t always drop things for them right when they ask. If I had stayed on at the software company where I used to work, I don’t think a customer would appreciate it if I couldn’t meet a hard deadline because one of my children wanted to tell me about today’s recess NOW instead of in twenty minutes. Do I want my children to feel like they can talk to me? Of course. Do I want my children to know how important they are to me? Absolutely. Do I need to let dinner burn or hang up on a work call to do that? No. Besides, sometimes I just need that one game of Bejeweled to keep me from putting the kids safely in their cribs and then driving off to the Grand Canyon in glorious, glorious silence.

And finally, I have to point out the wording of the original survey question, which actually asked: “Are your parents ever distracted when you are trying to talk to them?” Ever is a pretty wide-open time frame. It is, in fact, the wide-openest time frame possible. I’m actually shocked that only 62% of kids had ever felt their parents were distracted. Hell, I got distracted by the dog going crazy barking at the neighbors, the phone ringing, and my phone alarm telling me to put dinner in the crock pot so we don’t go hungry tonight – just between the time I started writing this and now.

So basically, well done, 38% of parents who have never made their kids feel they’re too busy to listen, and to the 62% that I’m sure I’ll be joining when my kids are old enough to notice: you’re probably doing fine, too, cell phone or not. The only percentage that matters is this one: it’s 100% possible to be a good parent even if you’ve ever checked your email or read a text while your kid is talking to you.