Dangers of Distracted Parenting


Being a parent is a huge responsibility. Not only you are in charge of your child every day care, but you are also given the monumental task of raising your child to become a decent, happy and healthy human being.

Knowing that you are accountable for the happiness and well-being of the child you also feel overwhelmed at times. Many parents are dealing with this feeling of stress by relying on their phones and tablets to make it through the day. But they should not forget that, just as the distracted driving is dangerous, in a similar way distracted parenting is dangerous as well.

1. Injuries to Children Incidences
There is no denying we live in a uniquely media-saturated time. Most adults and teens alike have their cell phones with them the majority of the day. For many adults, mobile technology has led to an expectation that you are available for work at all times of the day. It can be very hard to unplug and step away from the demands of work, the never-ending news cycle and updates from friends and family around the world. The rise of media use among parents, causing them to be distracted and disengaged with their children, has coined a new term, “distracted parenting.”

What is distracted parenting? It is parental overuse of hand-held technology, particularly cell phones and tablets, in the presence of children. There are the obvious risks of distracted parenting, when parent’s eyes are on their phones, they are not on their children. Studies have shown a correlation between the incidences of playground injury and parents technology-related inattention. However, what is less obvious, and potentially more concerning, are the less obvious effects of parents whose attention is focused on screens instead of their children.

2. Impact on child’s social and Emotional Development
Distracted parenting has been found to have an impact on children’s social and emotional development. Infants, for example, look to their caregivers’ faces, and eyes in particular, for social cues. When the caregivers eyes are focused on their phone, the infant is not receiving those cues. A study conducted recently at Boston Medical Center and published in the journal Pediatrics found that when parents were distracted by technology, they were more likely to respond harshly to children’s behavior. While some children appeared to accept their parent’s inattention, others displayed escalating misbehavior, and the parents who kept their gazes primarily on their devices were most likely to respond harshly to their children.

What does this mean for today’s parents? It is unlikely that cell phones will stop being a part of family lives any time soon. However, parents can aim to be responsive to their children’s needs. They can set an example for technology use in responsible ways. Notice when children are trying to get your attention. Be responsive to children’s positive behaviors, noticing when they are kind, friendly, sharing, etc. Parents can look for important times in the day to be focused and connect, such as returning home from school or work. Set technology-free times such as meal times and bed times.

3. Just three minutes is dangerous

Studies have furthermore suggested that parents who believe that they are only on their cellphones for a few seconds at a time, are often absorbed for more than three minutes at a stretch without taking their eyes off the device.

“Just imagine the potential trouble young children could get themselves into in just three minutes while their parents are distracted. Within the home environment alone, an unsupervised child may get their hands on poisonous cleaning products, burn themselves on a hot stove, fall down a flight of stairs, start playing with a sharp knife, or fall in the swimming pool and drown. In Netcare emergency departments, we see on a daily basis how many different types of injuries children can suffer in particular when they are not closely supervised,” Toubkin notes. We are increasingly seeing the growing use of hand-held devices as a factor that has exacerbated the injury rates for young children, including burns, falls and near drowning, to name just a few.

“Distracted parents may become distracted drivers or pedestrians who are not mindful of their children’s best interests. We would like to see greater awareness around distracted parenting. In fact, we believe that it should be elevated to a similar level of public concern as drinking and driving.”

US paediatrician, Dr Jenny Radesky, observed 55 groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants and recorded how often the adults used their smartphones during the meal. The evidence was sobering. Of the 40 caregivers who took out their phones during the meal, about 40% spent the entire meal swiping, texting and paying very little attention to the children in their care.

“Often when a person chokes, for example, it happens silently because the individual cannot cry out to attract attention. Precious, lifesaving moments may be lost if a caregiver is not quick to notice such incidents.”

A New York social experiment observed 50 caregiver-child pairs at various playgrounds and found that 74% of the caregivers were distracted during the two-minute playground sessions. The use of an electronic device accounted for 30% of the distractions, followed by caregivers being distracted by talking with other adults, eating, drinking or reading. “Children were found to be more likely to engage in dangerous behaviours, such as throwing sand, walking up a slide, sliding down head first and jumping off moving swings when their caregivers are distracted,” Toubkin observes.

4. Put down your cellphone mom!
Cellphones are a prime source of distraction. When a parent gets an urgent work phone call, for example, their minds may be so occupied that they forget to keep a watchful eye on their child without consciously realising it.

Unfortunately, a few minutes are all it takes for a tragic accident to occur. In order to help prevent such injuries, the Netcare trauma injury prevention programme, run by Netcare Milpark and Netcare Union hospitals, has distracted parenting as the topic of one of their strategic teaching sessions. “We are appealing to people who have children in their care to be alert to the dangers of distracted parenting, and maintain their vigilance with regard to child safety, as there could not possibly be anything on your cellphone or tablet that is more important than the wellbeing of a child. Distracted child care is not child care,” she concludes.

Eight suggestions to help prevent accidents as a result of distracted parenting:
1. Recognize the dangers of distracted parenting, and ask yourself whether you are letting mobile technology divert your attention from supervising your child in a responsible way.
2. Get up earlier and use the time to check emails and messages before waking your children, so that you can give them the necessary attention when they are up and about.
3. Keep meals and ‘quality time’ free of any technology: Make a point of not using electronic devices during meals.
4. Do not get distracted by your phone at all if you are keeping an eye on children anywhere near water, including a swimming pool, bath tub or fish pond.
5. If you must take a phone call while caring for a child, keep within arm’s reach of the child and watch them closely.
6. Never check or use your phone while driving, especially when there are children in the car.
7. If there is a need to keep your device on whilst spending time with your children, explain the reason to them. This will also help you to self-monitor whether it really is necessary to remain ‘connected’ during that period of time.
8. If you want to use your phone, rather use it to take photographs of your child. They grow up so quickly, and it is important to preserve memories of the good times spend together.

Get the latest news & live updates related to the Education Sector at BEYOND TEACHING. Download the Beyond Teaching app for your device. Read more Education news.