You’ve come home from a long and stressful day at work. All you can think of is vegging on the couch for a few minutes and scrolling on your phone, parenting is the last thing on your mind. However, you feel a small tap on your leg, only to realize your child has been trying to talk to you for several minutes and you have no idea what they said. The look of hurt on their face is unmistakable and now you feel even worse about your day.

If you’re like most parents, this scene is probably all too familiar to you. In fact, one study found 68% of parents admitted to being distracted by their cell phones when spending time with their kids. This increased phone use and internet addiction profoundly impacts developing kids and teens.

How Cell Phone Use Can Affect Your Kids

You may assume your time spent scrolling through Pinterest and posting on social media affects you more than your children, but that isn’t the case. Your smartphone use can drastically change the course of your kids’ mental and physical health.

1. Impedes Communication Skill Building

No matter your child’s age, they look to you and your parenting for help building their communication skills. Babies and toddlers use a “serve and return” system to solidify their neural connections, learn to form words and hit developmental milestones. Your little one will make a sound, cry or move to get your attention, then they wait for your response. Giving a reaction is the “return” that helps them learn. However, if you take that response away by being engaged with your phone, you lose a valuable teaching opportunity.

Older kids and teens look to you as a model for appropriate conversational skills. If you’re too absorbed with your phone to engage in conversation with them, they lose the ability to learn from you. Dinner-time talk and chit chats with people out and about show your kids how to interact well with others.

2. Sets a Model for Their Use

Children copy what they see their parents do — it’s a significant aspect of how they learn. As such, they’ll get their cues for proper cell phone use from you. If you spend your waking hours glued to your device, you’ll likely deal with a teenager who doesn’t know when to put the phone down. Modeling good boundaries with your cell will encourage your child to develop those same habits.

3. Increases Chances for Depression and Addiction

Continually interrupting the link between you and your child can have lasting effects on their mental health. A 2019 study found when parents use their phones when they’re supposed to be spending time with their kids, the child has a higher chance of depression in adolescence. To go even further, these researchers found the rates of depression were significant for kids who had overall supportive or unsupportive parents. Even the warmest, loving parents can impact their children’s mental health with cell phone use.

As your children age, they also risk developing phone addiction, similar to your behaviors. The average person spends 24 hours a week online, which, for children, can interfere with homework and important social skill development.

4. Lack of Parenting Encourages Attention-Seeking Behaviors

When your phone creates a barrier for your children to connect with you, they’ll find other ways of getting your attention. In some cases, they may try to earn your praise and gain your positive interest. However, more often than not, kids will resort to negative behaviors to seek the attention they crave. They may throw temper tantrums, do something dangerous or purposely get in trouble just to get you to look up from your phone.

Tips for Breaking Your Phone Habit

You’ve seen the effects on your parenting when using your smartphone. Now, what can you do about it? These strategies will help you slowly refocus on what’s important and reduce your time mindlessly scrolling.

1. Keep Track of Your Screen Time

Check your phone’s settings to see how much time you typically spend on your phone and what apps are the biggest time wasters for you. Once you’re more aware of this number, you can start to make small goals to reduce it.

2. Use Your Phone as an Accountability Partner

Use your phone’s basic features — like Down Time — to keep you accountable for the time you spend on your phone. You can turn off notifications from certain apps and even restrict your use during certain hours or after a designated amount of time. If your phone’s basic features aren’t cutting it for you, there are loads of options in the app store with more robust features.

3. Move Distracting Apps

If certain apps distract you whenever you look at your phone to answer a text or call, move them from your home screen. Moving them to a different location or burying them in a category will make you less tempted to click them and lose time.

4. Schedule No-Phone Times

Talk with your family to determine the best times for you to go phone-free. For most families, time in the evening and at meals are when everyone is together. Savor these precious moments by having the entire family put their devices out of sight.

Your Kids Need Undivided Attention

Your children need your undivided parenting to grow into successful and well-rounded individuals. Reducing your time on your cell phone can improve your family relationships and set your kids up for better mental and physical health as they grow.

Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny is proud to offer an online class designed to equip caregivers (parents, nannies, teachers) with a toolkit of useful methods for building an effective mindfulness lifestyle with your children. Check it out here, Mindfulness: Raising Self-Aware Children.

About The Author

Cora Gold is a mother and writer who aims to connect with other moms through her experiences with navigating motherhood. Cora is the Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist magazine and writes for sites including For Every Mom, MommyBites and Playground Professionals. When she’s not writing about style and beauty for her magazine, Revivalist, she loves to share her experience with family life. Follow Cora on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.