Digital Distraction or Just Another Form Of Parenting Shaming?


So this post has been floating around in my newsfeed in the last week, it’s been shared by a couple of pages I follow. And I have to admit my initial gut response is guilt. I mean, guilt is something that I jump to pretty quickly. 

…And then I got to this line….

I sat next to a parent at swimming lessons last week, who had headphones in and scrolled through Instagram the entire lesson… and I watched his son look up multiple times for some validation, a wink  or a thumbs up and he got nothing.”

… and rolled my eyes. Aside from the male pronouns he could have been literally talking about me. I could have been that parent at swimming lessons. I am that parent at swimming lessons.

And it’s an funny thought that Judgy Mcgee was watching another parent not watching their child instead of just watching their own child themselves. I’m not judging, I mean, I get it. Sometimes I people watch instead of fiddling with my phone, but when I’m watching other people are doing I’m still not actually watching my kids.

But that’s okay, because it’s not a smart phone, right?

It amuses me the number of times I’ve received compliments from complete strangers because I’m knitting or crocheting while “supervising” my kids. Instead of criticism and tutt tutting I get “Oh, aren’t you good! You don’t see many people knitting these days!” But either way my eyes are not on my children the whole time. Just like when I’m on my phone I’m listening, and glancing up, but I’m not actively engaging with them.

Raising Children Before Smartphones

digital distraction

I had a wonderful childhood! Obviously I grew up in a time before smartphones. So as you could imagine being a child in a  pre-tech-obsessed time my parents gave me their absolute undivided attention at all time. They didn’t have smart phones to distract themselves from enjoying every blissful moment of my perfect childhood.

Oh wait that never happened…

Don’t get me wrong, the first bit is true. I did truly have a wonderful childhood. I actually think I had an exceptional childhood. I’m extremely lucky to have had the experiences that I had growing up.

And my parents in no way neglected us. They just weren’t there for every single moment of every single day. They were there to love us, and care for us, and provide us with some incredible opportunities and experiences… but they didn’t need to entertain and supervise us at all times.

Which is the expectation I feel is put on parents these days.

The judgemental tutt tutt if you take your eyes off them during their swimming lesson. Or worse – the playground. 

But my parents didn’t really take us to the playground. We mostly took ourselves. So our parents wouldn’t have been sitting on the park bench looking at their phones, because they would have been at home.

And I feel like that is almost part of the issue. Generally children don’t have the freedoms a lot of us had growing up. From early primary school age onward we walked the streets, and we found friends, and we had our own adventures. These days parents have to be there. And if my kids want to play at the park for an hour I’m not going to just sit there staring at them the whole time. That’s really boring! So I’m going to find a way to keep myself entertained so they can play longer.

We Just Can’t Win

If it’s not being criticised for not being present enough or not supervising enough, we’re being told off for helicopter parenting.

It feels like whether you do or you don’t, either way, you’re probably wrong.

We’re supposed to give our children our complete and undivided attention at all times, while also fostering their independence and teaching them that they’re not the centre of the known universe.

We’re told the importance of self care – you need to look after yourself so you can look after them. It’s important to have some “me time”. But no! Not like that! Don’t relieve your own boredom or seek out connection and community online. Just like have a bath when the kids are asleep in bed.

You Do You

So if you cannot meet societies impossible and conflicting expectations, the logical solution here is to just do what you think is best. If you love watching your kids’ swimming lessons, or dance lesson, or whatever you take them too. Then do that! If that’s not for you – then don’t.

Relax….It’s fine… It’s totally okay if you sit through an entire swimming lesson barely glancing up at your kid while the parent next to you avidly watches their every move. Both parents are doing great. I mean. You took your kid to a swimming lesson. That’s a good thing! How are parents being judged for taking their kids to activities?! (Not to say that if your kid doesn’t do swimming lessons at all that you’re a bad parent. See above. You do you.)

Cut Back If You Thinks It’s A Problem

I don’t want to enable you if you do actually think it’s problematic. If you have noticed your phone use is excessive or compulsive, and you feel it’s getting in the way of being the parent you want to be, then definitely find a way to cut back.  Personally I find it helps if I leave my phone in my handbag in a cupboard I cut back on the compulsive checking. Sometimes consciously putting it away and out of reach helps me be more present. So definitely try some strategies to cut back if you feel like sometimes it’s excessive. There’s also apps like Quality Time that can help you track and limit your phone usage.

But chill. If you don’t think it’s a problem then don’t stress. Your kids don’t need you to be watching them all the time. Just for the times that matter.


Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Very interesting post Rachel. Thanks for sharing it. Personally, I don’t view my smartphone as a distraction. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t put it away when it comes time to watch or spend time with my little nephew. I agree with you that if parents recognize any excess in their use of their smartphones, they should try their best to cut down their time on their phone. But I’d also suggest that parents limit themselves on their phone usage anyway because their children only grow up once. I’m sure that they wouldn’t want to miss a memorable moment because they were too busy looking at their phones.

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