Distracted parents: What your children want you to know
By Barbara Pierce
I’m sitting here in my baby seat, trying to get your attention. But your eyes don’t ever leave that little thing you’re holding in your hands.
You don’t see me, your cute little 8-month-old baby. You don’t see that I’m watching you so closely, wishing you would look at me, waving my arms and making baby sounds, trying to get your attention.
But nothing helps. No matter how much I try to get your attention, you don’t see me. You can’t look away from that thing in your hands.
Don’t you know how badly I need your attention? If you keep ignoring me, I’ll give up. I’ll stop trying. I’ll withdraw into myself. My brain won’t develop the way it should.
If you hardly ever talk to me, I won’t learn to talk as well as other kids. And I won’t learn to understand the things other people say as well as other kids. When I keep trying to talk to you and you don’t answer me, I’ll stop trying to talk.
And I won’t be very good at handling my emotions. I might be whiny and feeling hurt all the time, or maybe I’ll have temper tantrums or become hyperactive. Probably won’t be a good outcome.
Dear Mom and Dad: This is from your 8-year-old. I don’t like it when you are using your phone all the time. We just eat dinner in front of the TV, with you eating with one hand and using your other hand to hold your phone.
I feel like you never pay attention to me. I wanted to tell you what happened at school today because it really upset me, and I don’t know what to do about it. But when I tried to tell you about it, you just told me to shut up and eat.
Please Mom, just let me tell you about it. I wish you would look away from your phone just for a few minutes and see me. I don’t think I’m important to you, not as important as your phone is, that’s for sure.
So if I start doing stupid things, or angry, hurtful things, like hurting Rex because I’m really mad, or talking way too much, or crying, I’m just trying to get your attention.
From mouths of babes
I feel really lonely. I feel so alone and that makes me so sad. Maybe if I hide your phone from you, Mom, you’ll pay attention to me. Next time you put it down, that’s what I’ll do.
Dear parents: This is your 15- year-old talking to you. You’ve been on that device for hours — you’re glued to it. Ugh, could you look up every once in a while? Put that phone down, now!
You even get mad at me when I ask you a question and interrupt you. You yell at me for no reason.
I really think you’re addicted; you spend way too much time on it. You’re constantly checking, scrolling, or texting. It feels like you are not really here with me. When I try to talk to you about something, like my girlfriend, you keep checking your phone. I feel like you’re not really listening to me.
I really do need your help sometimes; I need to know what you think about things that are important to me.
I’m not even on my phone as much as you are.
I think it would be a good idea if maybe we made a rule that none of us uses our phones during dinnertime, or in the evening. I’d be willing to give up my phone for that time. That’s because you are important to me; talking to you is important to me.
Cell phones are an invaluable technology that has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and get information. But as with anything good, too much of it can lead to problems.
Face-to-face interactions between parent and child are so important for their cognitive, language and emotional development. Study after study shows there are so many ways distracted parents harm the development of children, especially that of babies. Children whose parents were addicted to their phones had delays in speech and language. And they were significantly more likely to have behavior problems. The mother not paying attention seems to do more damage than that of the father’s inattention.
• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.