Distracted parenting is a hot topic lately. Some experts are linking the rise in smartphone ownership with a spike in emergency room visits for kids under 5. As a parent of two kids and an avid iPhone user, I can attest to plenty of distracted parenting moments -- not something I'm terribly proud of.
Despite this, I think smartphones are great and can really enhance parenting to some degree. I've certainly appreciated being able to use the map app to figure out how to get to swim lessons. And texting to coordinate afterschool plans is so convenient. Plus there are so many great apps for both parents and kids -- useful for skill building or entertainment when you're in a particularly slow line at the grocery store.
But if we parents are going to use smartphones, we do need to make a few rules for ourselves. One thing research has shown is that smartphone users' interpretation of how long they're staring at their phones instead of their kids is grossly underestimated. It might feel like 20 seconds, but really three minutes have passed -- long enough for younger kids to get into trouble and for older kids to feel neglected.
I follow a few basic rules to both model good phone behavior and keep my kids safe:
Beyond the basics, things get a little tricky -- especially when you're around other parents whose rules differ. While I agree that people should avoid "texting while parenting," I think it's fine to pull out my phone if my kids are otherwise occupied and safe. For example:
Finally, I suggest reserving judgment when it comes to other parents' smartphone use. Most of the comments in articles about distracted parenting are vicious exercises in blame ("Stupid is as stupid does."). You can never know what's going on in someone else's life. We all make mistakes and sometimes get into bad habits. I like to assume that most parents are doing the best job they can. Bottom line: If you really think someone's kids are in danger when their parent is on the phone, either help those kids, or get the parent's attention.
What are your personal smartphone rules? (And please follow me on Twitter!)