Distracted Parenting: Is Your Cell Phone Hurting your Child?

S-C-R-E-E-C-H, that’s the sound I heard coming from the adjacent lane in heavy traffic in Columbus recently. A young mother with a car filled with several little ones barely got her vehicle stopped in time as the light changed to red. To protect her children, she extended her arm toward the back seat when I spied the real culprit, the cell phone in her hand.

Go right ahead and tell someone like that mom, that they are being a negligent parent and that their cell phone behavior is endangering their kids. I’ll bet your well-intentioned advice wouldn’t be very well received. You might be thinking that this column is about distracted driving and the dangers that it presents, but it’s not. After all, experts have proven that “using a Smartphone while driving or crossing a street increases the risk of accident.” This statement was in a September 2012 Wall Street Journal feature titled, “The Perils of Texting While Parenting.”

Instead this WSJ article written by Ben Worthen was about how cell phone behavior intertwined with everyday parenting can put children at risk for injury. For example, young children have drowned, broken arms, and walked into harm’s way while their parents or caretakers have been busy tweeting, reading texts, or taking photos. Worthen cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that report, “Nonfatal injuries to children under age five rose 12% between 2007 and 2010. Could this be a direct correlation to the increase in Smartphone owners which has grown from about nine million in 2007 to 114 million in 2012?

In conjunction, studies show that sometimes a parent will look at their cell phone for what they think is a matter of seconds, when in reality it turns out to be minutes, causing them to be preoccupied putting especially small children at risk for physical injuries.

There’s another negative side-effect that seems to be rapidly becoming part of our society. There are parents so busy talking or texting that they no longer have time to engage with or listen to their children. To confirm this, just head out to any busy grocery store and you will find a few parents gabbing on the phone oblivious to anything their little one is saying. Of course, the conversation of a three-year-old isn’t very stimulating, but how are they going to learn if we are too busy to interact?

A year ago, I first read about extreme distracted parenting in a “Dear Abby,” column on Dec. 5, 2011 titled, “Mom with texting addiction needs a slap in her Facebook.” A frantic grandmother had written to syndicated columnist, Abigail Van Buren, complaining that her divorced daughter was so addicted to her cell phone, Facebook and texting, that she ignored her baby.

Maybe we aren’t addicted, but technology can still drive our daily life. Yet youthful folks might be at greater risk, since additional evidence suggests that young people’s personal relationships are being eroded by their cell phones. “The claims come after research revealed that young adults – in addition to sending over 100 texts – check their mobile up to 60 times a day.”  This quote from the article, “Mobile Madness” by Leo Morris for the Fort Wayne Sentinel who also writes, “Experts behind a new study have now said compulsively checking a mobile phone is an addiction similar to compulsive spending or credit card misuse.” Although, Morris seems to think the young folks will probably grow out of it.

I wish I could agree with Morris’s optimistic outlook, but still I don’t believe that we should go back to the dark ages of pre-cellular communication. Cell phones help to keep our children safe by keeping us all connected, and instantly place vital information at our fingertips. Although we need to try to keep our hands off of them for awhile, at least long enough to engage with our kids in real time. After all, most parents love their children in the most self-sacrificing of ways, and would be in despair if anything happened to them as a result of their negligence.

As for the teen who can’t put their own phone down, designate hours that are cell-phone free. Help them get through that socially awkward time of adolescence by having some open-ended conversations about appropriate cell phone etiquette, and genuine connectedness. After all, cell phones are definitely here to stay, but I guarantee you before you know it; your children will be grown and gone. The days of parenting are precious and brief, so try to savor the moments.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker whose website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  This is an excerpt from a column which originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News, and in The Lima News.

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