From the Left



What Happens When Your Phone Seems More Important Than Your Child?

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I listen to audiobooks and podcasts with headphones on while I clean. My son taps me on the shoulder to interrupt if he needs something. It's as simple as a pause button for my full attention. I reason that this is better than blaring whatever I want to listen to through the Echo.

However, a lawsuit out of Seattle has me wondering about how different technology is from my youth and what it means for my children. A public school district has filed a lawsuit against social media tech giants with the aim of holding them accountable for the mental health crisis among kids. I do think Big Tech is responsible for their part when it comes to how they operate. But, what about parents? While we hold Big Tech accountable, we should also work on how things operate at home. This means we must continue to work on ourselves. Lead by example.

Clicking the pause button on my headset is one thing. But what about the times we reach for our phone to answer a text, email or social ping? Our phones have become our cultural pacifier and caused great disruption in all of our relationships.

Are you really there?

Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., clinical psychologist, consultant and co-author of "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age," says children's emotions toward their parent's devices (smartphones, iPads, laptops, etc.) are similar to what one would see in sibling rivalry. The child feels the need to compete with the phone. In fact, children consistently use the same adjectives when describing how they feel about their parent's interaction with their electronic devices. Sad. Mad. Frustrated. Lonely. I can only imagine this feeling intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our whole world became digitized in a lockdown of remote learning and remote work with the intention of keeping us all safe.

Young children seek meaningful interactions with their parents and instead they are many times feeling left out, like they're boring, uninteresting and less important than whatever is on their parent's device. While kids are trying to navigate a tech-heavy world, parents should become that anchor for children to learn deep, active listening at home.

Our phones are a constant if we let them be. With us all the time. Even in our beds. At the ping of a notification, we are willing to turn our backs on conversations happening in front of us to look at our phones. We also engage with others on social media in ways we would not be proud of if our children saw. We must lead by example and behave as if our children are watching, learning and internalizing -- because they are.


When you choose to interact with the phone instead of your child, you've made your child wait and made him feel less important -- so you can interact with someone who's not even in the room.

Many of us are still working from home at least part of the time. The pandemic gave us flexibility and many businesses plan to keep that flexibility. So, we have to do better if our children are home during our flex time. There must be boundaries and expectations. But when your child bounds into the room and you're deep into responding to an email or text, take a second to breathe before you speak. It sounds silly, but it helps with the tone of your response. Our instinct is to want to finish what we're doing.

It's too easy to reach for a phone in your pocket out of boredom or habit. We're easily distracted. Put your phone someplace else when you can create the space. Set it down. No, you really don't have to carry it around with you. Maybe choose an activity with your child that doesn't make room for checking your phone. I love going to family swim at the YMCA for this very reason.

Our children need to know we're responsive and reliable. Turn the notifications off on your phone. Get rid of the "ping" that makes you anxious and eager to "just check." You control when you engage. Don't let your phone control you. Revive your face-to-face connections so maybe our children can, too.


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