I hate to admit it, but my parents were right. When I was a teenager and had all the answers, they would smile good-naturedly and tell me that if ever I became a parent, I would finally understand. Now I have to ruefully confess – much to their delight I’m sure – that parenting, while totally worth it, is no walk in the park.  

While I’m certain not a lot has changed in regard to the challenges parents face today, I think it’s fair to say that parenting in this day and age comes with its own unique set of trials and worries. Perhaps one of the greatest hot button issues for the modern day parent is managing our kids’ use of cellular devices.

Managing Kids Devices

There are many of us, as parents, who believe that a lot of our kids are far too distracted by their cell phones. This is probably because, as loving and concerned parents, we instinctively understand that, while cell phones offer so many amazing applications, they also come with certain drawbacks. Such easy access to games, social media, texting, the internet and other apps means that our kids can be prone to more distractions, more social “pitfalls”, cyber-bullying, and, well, you get the idea.

In response we take certain precautions. We try to limit our kids’ “screen” time and monitor their activity on social media. We balance their privacy, keep tabs on their text messages and do whatever else we can think of in order to minimize any possible detrimental effects. That is, of course, if we allow our kids to have a device at all.

All of these attempts to protect our kids are prudent and commendable. Yet, in spite of all our efforts to teach them how to use their cell phones and devices responsibly, we often overlook one important factor: our own fixation with our cell phones.

Managing Our Own Device Time

In June 2015 AVG Technologies surveyed over 6000 children from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, and Brazil. Among other things, the survey was designed to gather information on how kids felt about their parents’ cell phone use. The results were eye opening. 54 percent of the kids surveyed felt that their parents spent too much time on their phones.

32 percent of kids surveyed said that they felt unimportant when their parents appeared distracted by their cellular devices.

We may look at this kind of survey and believe that it’s an issue for other parents, not ourselves. After all, our cell phone activity isn’t nearly so frivolous, right? Our texts, or our social media feeds have importance and substance, don’t they? We’re not hanging on every monosyllabic, emoji filled text message, or mindlessly scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram, are we?

Regardless of how we may use our cell phones, or how well meaning our mobile activity, the fact is that our devices distract many of us. Clearly our kids are taking notice. While it may appear as though our children are somewhat oblivious to the world around them when they’re on their devices, it’s not necessarily the case. They still want to know and feel that they are important and loved by their parents, regardless of whether they’re teenagers, pre-teens, or younger.

Many of us have friends or family who have a horrible tendency to constantly check their devices in the middle of a conversation. In these moments, it certainly doesn’t  feel as though that person cares much about what we’re sharing. If, as adults, we can feel a little stung by another person’s inconsiderate phone checking, how much worse does it feel for our kids! Especially when it’s their own parents who are distracted?

As caring parents, we want our children to feel as though they can come to us about anything. We regularly ask them how they’re doing or remind them that, no matter what, we’re here to listen and help. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions have a way of sabotaging our well-intentioned expressions of care and affection. Even though we mean what we say, our words may ring hollow in those moments when we seem more engaged in the text, post, or game on our phone than in our kids.

What We Can Do

The solution, fortunately, is a very simple one: put our phones on silent and place them out of reach when we’re engaging with our kids. Don’t even glance at it. We need to avoid coming up with reasons to have it within our grasp at all times. The texts can wait; the game that we’ve worked so hard to level up on isn’t important, and the social media feeds will always be there.

There’s little doubt that cell phones are a great and very useful piece of technology.  I love that we can call, text, and email. I appreciate the access to countless apps that can entertain, educate and generally make our lives a little more convenient (how on earth did I ever get around before the Google Maps app?). The unfortunate flip side is that all of these amazing apps also have the potential to take an unhealthy hold of our attention. It’s easy to be critical of our kids’ cell phone use, but much harder to take an honest look at our own habits. By setting our phones aside, it sends a subtle, but powerful message to our kids: You have our full attention.

Want to read more about kids and technology?

A 6 Step Digital Family Plan

Parenting Digitally Wise Kids

Written by Marc Lapointe

Marc Lapointe

Marc Lapointe holds a Masters Degree in Education and has been an educator for over two decades. He is the author of “Standing in the Education Gap: A Commonsense Approach to Helping Your Child Succeed in School”, host of the Stuff For Parents Podcast, a regular writer for Stuff For Parents.com, and has been a guest on dozens of radio talk shows across North America. Marc, his wife, and two teenaged children live in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
Visit StuffForParents.com to read Marc’s regular blog posts on parenting and education or to tune in to the SFP Podcast.