Have you ever glanced down at your phone to momentarily check an incoming text or email or Facebook notification, when you should have been focusing on your kids? I know I have—after all, smartphones provide an easy break from the monotony of parenting and make multitasking a snap. But there’s also a downside. According to a new study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, when we use our smartphones around our young kids, we may be amping up the amount of conflict and tension in the house.
Why? Because the more we blur the lines between work, social, and home life, the more we feel like we’re in more than one place at once while trying to parent.
For the study, researchers interviewed 35 caregivers about multitasking smartphone use, and found that many of them complained it was affecting family routines. The caregivers also admitted to responding negatively to their kids after reading bad news or work-related emails, and confessed that when their kids tried to steal their attention away from their phones, they often snapped or yelled at them. Meanwhile, those same caregivers said their phones provided “an escape” from the boredom and stress of parenting, as well as an easy way to get work done from home.
“Parents are struggling to balance family time and the desire to be present at home with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands,” explained lead author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “It’s much harder to toggle between mom or dad brain and other aspects of life because the boundaries have all blurred together.”
Yikes! So now what?
Well for starters, keep in mind the study is small. And that according to Radesky, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when it comes to giving our kids attention. “You don’t have to be available to your children 100 percent of the time,” she explained. “In fact, it’s healthy for them to be independent.”
It’s also important for parents to feel relevant at work and other parts of their lives, Radesky said. But if you’re feeling overloaded or exhausted from being pulled in so many different directions, it’s probably time to set boundaries. Some of her suggestions include: creating a family plan with unplugged spaces or times of day, using a filter or block on your device to avoid the temptation of too much tech use at home, and reserving the most stressful tasks for times when you know your kids are occupied.