Texting While Parenting: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Distracted Parenting

Last week I was passed a young woman walking with her daughter on a path near my home. It’s not uncommon for me to see parents and kids together here; we were on a well used walkway that runs along a shallow creek cherished by neighborhood children for the treasures it hosts: thumbnail-sized frogs, skittering crawfish, the occasional swimming garter snake, and countless snails and other invertebrates.

It is an area rich in opportunities to explore, learn, and squeal with discovery: a pocket nature museum with unlimited reasons for kids to ask questions and for parents to wish they hadn’t skipped their life science labs in high school.

Like a responsible mother, the woman held her daughter’s hand as they walked. In her free hand she held her smartphone. And naturally, the smartphone held her attention as her thumb skittered across the screen.

I’ll grant you, the path is wide, and the creek is several feet away at the edge of a gentle slope. The child was in no danger of wandering off or slipping off a ledge into rushing water. The mother’s grasp of her child’s hand provided adequate protection–from physical danger.

In the child’s free hand? A toy smartphone, the fraternal twin of her mother’s phone. Her small thumb rubbed clumsy patterns across the plastic.

What if poor modeling were the most dire consequence of distracted parenting?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever browsed Facebook on your phone while you were with your child.
Go ahead: no judgment.
Snapped a selfie and posted it to Instagram?
Read or sent a text?
Come on.

No one with a cell phone will be surprised to learn that distracted parenting, and specifically texting while parenting, is on the rise, making poor role modeling a comparatively innocuous effect of this trend.

In a 2012 Wall Street Journal video/article, Ben Worthen and Linda Blake reported that non-fatal injuries among children under 5 had fallen for much of the 1990s.

From 2007-2010, however, the trend was reversed: those injuries rose by 12% (CDC). A likely cause? During the same period, the number of people in the US with smartphones grew from 6% to 30% (comScore). Correlation does not equal causation, but the numbers won’t be ignored.

It’s not news: Users are easily seduced by smartphones. The facts begin to tell the story:

  • Cell phones are involved in 1.6 million auto crashes each year that cause 500,000 injuries and take 4000 lives (USDOT).
  • Between 2005 and 2012, the number of drunk driving fatalities decreased 28% (Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly).
  • Between 2005 and 2008 alone, the number of distracted driving fatalities increased by the same percentage (NIH).

AT&T’s “Close to Home”

Moms’ and dads’ intentions to parent in the moment are easily supplanted by games, social media, and texting. But the risks of passing along bad habits and missing out on those meaningful and often teachable moments with your child pale into insignificance with the bottom line: parents who pay attention to their phones instead of to their children are risking their children’s lives–and their own.

What strategies do you use to resist the temptation to give your phone your attention that your child deserves?