The topic on my mind recently has been that of “distracted parenting,” or multitasking (typically checking electronic devices) while trying to go about the daily tasks of parenting. How harmful is this? What should we be considering as we decide how to involve electronic devices into our lives? What are some options for a better balance?

First, let me say that I fall into the category of distracted parent frequently — it is a reality of life as a working parent. My career allows me to be flexible with my time, for which I am truly fortunate. However, I am still expected to be available on a regular basis, so I make up for this flexibility by checking my phone and email frequently, responding as soon as possible and keeping a long electronic to-do list that I check at regular intervals. I imagine that I am describing electronic use that is somewhat typical of most parents.

Should we be worried?

  • Multitasking, while necessary for survival as a parent, can mean that each task we try to accomplish may not be done as well or as efficiently as if we were focusing on that one task alone. That includes parenting.
  • Distraction with electronic devices can potentially compromise the safety of our children.
  • We serve as role models for our children, so if they see us constantly plugged in, they are likely to do the same, which we don’t want. We know it is not good for them.

Without meaning to, it is easy to hurt your child’s feelings or imply that you are not interested in them if you are constantly saying “one second, honey!” because you are on your phone or checking email.

In sum, we may be better off if we try to plan so that we focus on one thing at a time, focus on our children when possible (and always when we need to keep our children safe) and set a good example for our children about how our electronic devices are only a tool and one part of our lives.

What can we do?

  • Although it is hard, try to keep each task separate. Even if you were at work, you wouldn’t be able to check and respond to email immediately. Therefore, if you need to check frequently, plan to check once every hour (30 minutes if you must). When you are checking email, make sure your children are safe and will be for the next 10 minutes. Let them know that you need to work for 10 minutes.
  • When you are not having your 10-minute electronic check in, focus on your children. If you need to multitask, such as getting dinner ready, etc., try to involve them when possible or at least encourage them to be in the same room so you can talk.
  • Limit screen and technology time for everyone in the family, including yourself. Have unplugged family time at least a few times a week where you focus on each other or yourselves.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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