How Is Parental Phone Use Impacting Our Kids?


Monitoring and limiting children’s screen time is something as parents we often worry about. However, who monitors and limits OUR screen time?

The Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey 2016, shows some alarming statistics for smartphone users of the grown up variety.

  • 84% of Australians have a smartphone.
  • The average user checks their phone 30 times a day.
  • 30% check their phone if they wake up during the night.
  • 29% argue with their spouse regarding smartphone use.

I’m willing to wager the real figures are higher on those last few points.

So, if we have documented evidence that smartphones are impacting our marital relationships – relationships with grown ups who are willing to call us out on it – what on earth are they doing to the relationships with our kids?

I’m the first person to admit that I am guilty of looking at my phone while my kids are talking to me, while I’m watching a movie with them and even when I’m playing with them.

Does this make me a bad parent?


Does this make me very dissimilar from other parents?

Probably not.

Like any addict, I’m able to justify my behaviour. My beloved smartphone serves a number of purposes:

  • Organisational and functional reasons – banking, calendar, calculator, reminders etc
  • Work – emails, invoicing, research, social media (yes, some SM counts as work for me!)
  • Camera – I take a lot of photos. Mostly of the kids when we are out and about.
  • Social – this is a huge one. As a single mum who works from home, social media keeps me connected to my “village”.
  • Distraction – yes, I’m listing this as a purpose. I will scroll newsfeeds, read articles and faff with my phone if I’m bored or want to escape reality for a while. I’ll own that.

All these reasons are legitimate (to me), however are they healthy?

Smartphone technology essentially allows work and social connections to encroach on our family time.

In the past, when you got home from work, it was tools down. When you weren’t socialising with people face to face, you were face to face with your family.

There have always been distractions such as TV, hobbies, books and newspapers that can take a parent’s attention away from their children, however the smartphone is such an innocuous item that it flies under our radar. Small and discrete, we can hold it in our hand, thinking we are multitasking when really that little rectangular screen holds the majority of our attention.

Currently, the only time I restrict my phone usage around my kids is dinner. The rest is a free-for-all. I don’t mean to ignore my kids, but I’m sure that’s not the impression they get. They are certainly not getting 100% of my attention as often as they should.

Recent studies, such as this one, are linking parental technology use to child behaviour. There’s even a term for it “technoference“. And honestly, it’s not rocket science. If I was trying to talk to someone about something I thought was important and they were too busy looking at their phone, I’d chuck a tanty too (OK, I may have been known to actually do this).

So, I’m going to set myself a little challenge. I’ve recently set up a charging station in a central spot at home to power up our multitude of devices. I am going to start making a conscious effort to plug my phone in and unplug ME at the following times:

  • all meal times
  • when playing or doing an activity with the kids
  • family movies

I’m also going make a concerted effort to keep my phone in my handbag when we are out. The photos are great but living in the present is better.

If you are interested in the extent of your own smartphone use, ABC is running a Smartphone Survey in conjunction with Griffith University, Murdoch University and Western Sydney University to help us understand how smartphones are changing our lives. Some of the questions are real eye openers!

And if you already feel your family’s technology use is an issue and are looking for a way to reconnect, you might like to check out The Digital Detox Project – Camp Unplugged.






About Author

Renee Meier

Renée is a freelance writer, perpetual student and aspiring novelist. In her spare time she's the sole parent to 3 rambunctious little people. She survives predominantly on coffee and squishy hugs.

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