There is no doubt that smart phones have revolutionised the way we live. Handy apps help us manage nearly all areas of our lives, including parenting. While our smart phones have made some things easier, they have also introduced a new set of challenges.
But as parents grapple with questions such as “is my child having too much screen time?” and “should my child own their own smart phone?” experts are warning that we are becoming a generation of hypocrites.
A new poll carried out by the New Forest National Park Authority in the UK has found that almost 70 per cent of children think their parents spend too much time on their smart phones, iPads and other portable devices.
More than a third of the children surveyed said that they were worried about their parents smart phone use. There were a variety of concerns; some children said they thought their parents needed to switch off more while others accused their parents of double standards.
Another complaint was that parents who were “glued” to smart phones were not listening properly. As many as 37 per cent of children said that their parents sometimes spend the whole evening on their phone rather than talking.
For mums like Joanne* the results of this poll are not surprising. “My son often tells me to put my phone away,” she says.
But while Joanne feels huge pangs of guilt about her smart phone use, she also thinks that it is a trade off. As a self-employed marketing consultant she needs to be accessible, and that means checking for e-mails and answering calls – even at the park.
“I am often the mum in the park who is on her phone rather than paying attention to my son,” she says.
“It is hard to juggle because I rely on my phone for my work, and therefore my income, and need to be constantly accessible. However, on the flip side, I know that is a distraction for me and I know that sometimes my son misses out on my attention because of it,” Joanne explains.
While Joanne worries about the long-term impact her smart phone use may be having on her son she also acknowledges that it is one of the “realities” of modern life.
“If I couldn’t use my phone to manage my workload while I’m with my son then I wouldn’t be able to work for myself. The alternative would be going back to work full-time. You have to weight it up,” she says.
Cath* is in a similar situation. She runs a small business from home and uses her smart phone to respond to customer queries. In contrast to Joanne though, she doesn’t feel guilty about it.
“I still live in the present with my boys,” she says. “This business is helping them because it brings in money that gets spent on them.”
Of course smart phone use by parents is not limited to those managing their work obligations. Some parents are using their phones for more leisurely activities such as connecting with friends on social media or playing games.
For Alice* the appeal of her smart phone is a way to connect with other mums particularly when things become fraught at home.
“I’m often just firing off text messages to mates venting about how stressed I’m feeling. Being a stay at home mum can be very isolating at times and being able to check in with friends makes a huge difference,”
Family Therapist Abi Gold from Juggle Family and Parenting Consultancy warns that children who are “ignored” while their parents check email and social media can be left feeling rejected. “It can be a bit of a slap in the face,” she says.
“Some children might start to turn away from that parent, others will start exhibiting attention seeking behaviour.”
Abi’s advice is to try and choose the right moments to pick up your phone. “Wait until they are happily entertaining themselves, or when they have their back towards you,” she says.
She also suggests that from time to time you leave your phone at home when you’re off to the park.
Abi notes that while it would be difficult for parents to stop smart phone use altogether, it is important that we learn to strike a balance. “We need to limit our use of technology, whether it is for work or for socialising,” she says.
“You have to be very conscious that when you are using your phone you are not connecting with the little people who are right there with you,” says Abi. “They’re waiting for your attention.”
* Surnames withheld