Seven reasons why it’s fine for parents to love their mobile phones
Sherry Turkle worries about it in Alone Together, and journalists love to worry about it: the idea that parents are increasingly ignoring their kids to stare at their phones. Perhaps there are cases where children are genuinely suffering neglect from phone-obsessed parents, but I would wager that that is an extremely rare occurrence, and that the problems in such a family extend far beyond a phone. For most of us, I’m sure that peeking at your phone now and then does not endanger your children. Here’s why:
- It’s OK to spend a few minutes reading the news, talking to a friend or sharing a silly photo. Assuming you’re not staring at your phone the entire day, taking breaks from direct interaction with your kids will give you more energy to actually be with your family.
- Parents have always read the newspaper at the breakfast table. This is not typically seen as evidence of terrible parenting. Why should reading news on your phone be such a problem?
- Children need alone time too. It’s vital for kids to learn to play alone and with friends and siblings. Parents have never in the history of humanity spent as much one-on-one time with their children as today, and while of course parental attention is important, no child should be taught that they can always command their parents’ complete and undivided attention.
- Keeping in touch with your friends and family through your phone gives you – and your children – a stronger social network. That makes you more able to provide your kids with a good environment, healthy friendships and not least, a happy parent.
- Let’s face it: there are aspects of parenting that are really boring. A phone is lightweight enough to read easily while you’re breastfeeding or waiting for the kids to fall asleep or sitting at the playground while they get on with their business of playing with other kids. I actually loved breastfeeding, but didn’t feel the need to be 100% mindful of if for 2 1/2 hours a day.
- The rhetoric of addiction is a classic trope of media panic; that is, the tendency for a society to decry the evils of any new medium. Does this excerpt from 1796 sound familiar? Except, hey, it’s novels they’re worried about, not phones. Fancy that!
I have actually seen mothers, in miserable garrets, crying for the imaginary distress of an heroine, while their children were crying for bread: and the mistress of a family losing hours over a novel in the parlour, while her maids, in emulation of the example, were similarly employed in the kitchen. (Sylph no. 5, October 7, 1796: 36-37 (qtd in Inventing Maternity)
Fear of the new is often expressed as a fear that the family itself is threatened, and mothers and children are regularly invoked. Genevieve Bell commented that “moral panic is remarkably stable and it is always played out in the bodies of children and women.”
- Statistically speaking, you’re already spending far more time with your kids than your parents’ or grandparents generation did. So relax, take a deep breath, and don’t feel guilty if you check Facebook while you’re cooking dinner and the kids play with their lego.
ADDENDUM, Oct 1: I hadn’t really considered injuries to children due to parents distracted by mobile phones, as described in this Wall Street Journal article. Obviously if your very young child is at the pool you should be watching your child, not surfing. Having said that, I’m sure parents and caretakers have been distracted at the pool before phones arrived too.