parent opinion

"Enough with the phone shaming. I actually have good reasons for 'neglecting' my kid."

I know not everything is about me, but nevertheless, the recent findings of a study of 7000 children have made me a little uncomfortable.

You see, a landmark Queensland State Government report has this week found kids feel neglected when their parents are distracted by their mobile phones and devices, and want more attention from them.

Without diminishing the importance of those children’s voices, can I please speak on behalf of every parent when I respond:

Oh for f*ck’s sake.

I care very much how those kids feel, it is vitally important. But I’m not sure how this research is exactly helpful in placing the blame entirely in the laps of mums and dads. Because I don’t think the issue is parents are irresponsibly having a phone free-for-all in front of their kids.

“They want adults to pay attention, have respectful conversations, and listen to what they have to say about the things important to them – they’re asking adults to put their phones down and to interact with them more,” Queensland Family and Child Commission Principal Commissioner Cheryl Vardon says in the report.

And that is absolutely fair enough. I get that – I don’t think there’s a responsible (so, most of us) parent out there who doesn’t think about that. So please don’t get me wrong – I’m not denying the significance of this study. Obviously, parents with their faces in their phones is a real issue with the message it’s sending.

But I’m suggesting the solution isn’t to shame parents. Because, at the moment, it’s definitely a case of we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.

I was once mobile phone shamed. I was in a restaurant with my six-year-old son, and I looked up from my phone to find a waitress at our table, not there to take an order or deliver our meals, but to tell me off.

“You know, your son is sitting right there,” she told me.

I stared at her impassively and replied: “I’m making a change to my father’s death notice that’s in the paper tomorrow.”

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That shut her up.

My dilemma was that yes, I was with my son – but there was a mistake in my father’s death notice and I could email the newspaper about it from my phone, immediately. My son; well, he would just have to wait for a minute. When most of my attention normally goes to him, was that so bad?

That’s the thing that made me the most annoyed about the waitress – the situation, when my full attention wasn’t entirely on my son, was not the norm.

The fact of the matter is that most parents make a million sacrifices and triage responsibilities every day – and we’re just doing what we need to do to get by, so we can keep on being the best parents we can be.

That’s why I find it harsh when parents are criticised for being on their phones in front of their kids. Especially because I’m sure most of you have valid reasons – as I do – the primary one being, if I’m “ignoring” my child, it’s usually, ninety per cent of the time, because of him.

Yes, I mean the constant succession of emails, calls and texts about school, his activities and his social life – it’s all about him. I’m texting the class rep about the Christmas party. I’m in a Facebook group looking for reliable cleaner so I can have more time with my kid. I’m looking for the Christmas present he wants. Trying to find a good deal on a family holiday. Booking tickets to the concert he wants to go to.

Or I’m responding to something that’s important in my life. Something that can’t wait. Because, as much as my life usually revolves around my kid, there are times it can’t.

So if the effects are so dire on our kids as the study reveals, maybe the solution is to help kids to understand exactly what we’re doing on our phones. Explain whom we’re communicating with, and about what. But also, explain that we’re entitled to the occasional downtime on our devices, just as they are.

That way, there’s less of a chance they will feel feel neglected. Instead, they will be reminded that most of the time, everything we do is for them.

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