Is Smart Phone Parenting A Smart Choice?
  • November 3, 2015
  • Sabreena Siddiqui Sociologist, Researcher, and Mother of 3

    How many of us are guilty of spending a little too much time on our devices?

    Our one smartphone has eliminated the need for almost all other gadgets but has this magic device in the palm of our hands lured us away from our children? In a smart phone driven world how do parents negotiate the delicate balance of using devices to improve their standard of life whilst not allowing it to isolate them from the family unit? There is no denying that life can be a lot easier with a smartphone, and with an abundance of information so readily available in the palm of your hands, why would there be any question of the benefits?

    Researchers, however, insist that smartphones are not only detrimental to the well being of growing young minds, but they also have a negative affect on the quality of parenting. “Smartphone parenting” may not be such a smart choice.

    “Having had my children quite far apart in age, I have had the opportunity

    to experience parenting during various digital ages”

    Having had my children quite far apart in age, I have had the opportunity to experience parenting during various digital ages. When my daughter was born in 2003 I was the proud owner of, what now feels like an archaic device, a very sexy looking flip phone. At the time I had no idea how much easier (or complicated) life was about to get. Fast forward to 2010, at the birth of my son, I was now able to access pretty much anything instantly on my new iPhone. I must admit, those quiet, long, often-painful breastfeeding sessions were all of a sudden a lot easier to get through. I couldn’t imagine how we could ever have gotten through these lonely moments without instant entertainment to pass time. Little did I realize though, by the birth of my third child in 2015 I would feel overwhelmed by this device. Bombarded with parent shaming articles, I am often guilt-ridden for choosing to read/write on my phone rather than watch in awe, the miracle lying beside me.

    The guilt had actually started long before the articles; mothers – that’s what we do. There are moments that I feel liberated by my smartphone and at other times utterly bound by it, yearning to just “switch off”. These often-conflicting thoughts and feelings had begun to sound too familiar to addictive bahaviours. And so, being a sociological researcher, I decided to read up a little more objectively on the issue.

    What the research says

    According to PEW Research Centre statistics, cellphone ownership has had a steady incline over the last decade or so (2000-53%, 2009-85%, 2013-91%), furthermore, since the launch of the iPhone smartphone use has seen an even sharper incline in a shorter time frame (2011-35%, 2014-64%), with ownership almost doubling in 3 years. This would make sense, since owning the device makes life and productivity so much better, right? Not always! Navigating through current research data and articles on parenting in the digital age, it has become clear that there are two sides to the “parenting whilst smart phoning” debate: smartphones are good; parents are bad vs. parents are good; smartphones are bad.

    Parenting under the influence of smartphones

    A recent study in pediatrics, entitled “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants”, measured the “degree of absorption” in devices by caregivers against child response and caregiver management of child misbehaviour. The results were depressing; “highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior”. Such research warn us of the ways in which our parenting can lack patience and care when our already stressed-out minds are distracted by the constant information we are receiving, processing, and churning out, vis-à-vis our devices. I began to wonder, how would I have faired in such a study? I really needed to hear some good news, so continued on my quest.

    “Highly absorbed caregivers often responded
    harshly to child misbehavior.”

    In New York researchers observed and recorded parent-child pairs at 7 playgrounds to assess parents’ level of distraction and whether distracted parents led to riskier behaviour in kids. During these recordings, caregivers were distracted 74% of the time. However, smartphones and other electronic devices made up only 30 percent of all distractions observed; 33 percent were from talking with other adults and 37 percent from eating, drinking, looking in a bag, reading, and other miscellaneous activities. So how can we blame smartphones if caregiver distraction comes in so many forms?

    Don’t put away your phones so quickly!

    Decades ago–before the Internet, and long before smartphones–workaholism was blamed for bad parenting. Distractions have always been there, and people’s addiction to them too, but there have always been some parents more engaged than others. The disengaged parent, whether it is for work, socializing, or instant gratification on their device is the culprit, not the momentarily distracted parent. So why do we feel so guilty for enjoying a little momentary distraction from our often exhausting parenting duties, whether it’s for a quick Facebook catch-up or to play a round of angry birds?

    “Smartphones and other electronic devices
    made up only 30 percent of all distractions observed”

    Parent-shaming articles or not, I have a definite sense of mummy-guilt that I carry with me at all times, but did I not feel guilty as a parent when I had my sexy looking but not so smart flip phone? The answer is yes I did! I felt just as guilty as a mother in 2003 as I do today, perhaps not for reading an article on my iPhone but for maybe texting my friends for long periods of time or being on the phone for an hour with my mum. Speaking of whom, I believe my mother probably felt just as guilty watching TV or talking on her landline phone corded to the wall in the 80’s. Maybe at the time she wished if she were only able to walk around with a cordless phone to follow her drooling little crawler, then she’d be a better parent!

    NOT guilty!


    We have simply learnt to displace our inherent parental guilt onto the newest villain on the block- the smartphone, but one can argue that any parent that is conscious enough to feel guilty is not a bad parent at all. Just like “bad” disengaged parents will exist in any given digital age, “good” parents with parental guilt will also exist. There is no denying that the smartphone has increased productivity in the public and private realm, but considering the sudden onset and sharp increase in use, we have perhaps as a society not quite learnt to conscientiously adapt to this digital extension of ourselves, to be able to balance the attention we give to our devices vs. our families. One day we may nostalgically look back at the iPhone as a device that allowed for better parenting.

    Final thought

    Be it a blessing or a curse the advancement of digital technology will not be slowing down. Rather than shaming parents or dwelling in parental-guilt we should embrace this new type of parenting and figure out ways to use our smartphones as smart parents.


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