By Shelbie Fowler // July 13, 2018
Parenting is often described as one of the best and most stressful jobs that a person can take on. Becoming a parent is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, and the need to constantly be “on.” So what happens when parents go from being “on” top of things to being distracted and “on” their phone maybe a little too often?
The term for this phenomenon is distracted parenting. You may not have heard this term before, but you’ve likely seen it in action. Here are some examples of distracted parenting:
The dangers of distracted parentingThese distracted parents gave their children the perfect opportunity to take risks that could otherwise be prevented such as throwing sand, climbing up the slide, or jumping from large heights. Over 200,000 children under 14 years of age are treated in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries each year, and children will take risks regardless. While none of the children in this study were seriously injured, researchers noted that children are more likely to take those risks when their parent is distracted.
Not only is there a potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to be attentive or connected to them at the moment. Children may even engage in risky behavior just to attract the attention of distracted parents, and distracted parents are not as responsive to their kids, or as sensitive to their needs.
Parents, instead, might share that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than going down with them. Parents may be more interested in posting about their family dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table. These actions in place of making eye contact, engaging in conversation, and actively participating in play can leave a child wondering what they need to do to regain the attention of their parent(s).
Distractions are a part of life, but they can be managedAn article on Psychology Today notes that being distracted as a parent is expected to a degree, especially with multiple children in the home and/or with parents working. It’s part of family life when you have to balance chores, meals, jobs, and a budget.
However, it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are aware when the important people in their lives, like their parents, are not paying attention to their needs physically or emotionally. In those moments when a child feels a disconnect from their caregiver, they will test what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school, among other risky behaviors in the hopes that someone will notice them.
Make efforts to be intentionally attentiveIf you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask yourself these questions:
These acts, like The Gottman Institute’s motto of “Small Things Often,” may seem small in nature but they will have long-lasting positive effects on the emotional health of families. To do that, we can focus on creating undistracted time in order to fully engage with the people that we interact with on a daily basis. Try setting aside an hour at home, with your kids, where no phones or screens are allowed, and do something fun with them. Try putting your phone away more often when you’re engaged in conversation with others. Your children, teens, friends, and other family members will notice when you make the effort to give them your attention on a regular basis.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.