If someone asked if you were a distracted parent, how would you respond? Always responsive? Usually distracted? Somewhere in between?
Many parents feel just their presence makes them attentive parents. However, if they have their faces buried in their smartphone, or they are chatting it up with friends instead of watching little Johnny make it all the way across the monkey bars, or notice that Susie is having a sad day…well, that is an unhealthy level of distraction. Especially if it happens a lot.
Dr. Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, says that “When it comes to building bonds with our children, there are no shortcuts. It is only achieved when parents set aside time for quality, face-to-face communication with kids.”
In their annual State of the Kid survey conducted by Highlight Magazine last year, they focused on parental distraction and whether parents were missing opportunities to connect with their children. When the kids were asked, 62 percent reported that their parents were distracted when they tried to talk to them. Cellphones were the number one diversion, closely followed by siblings. Work came in third place.
Here are some of the top parental distractions:
It is widely believed that technology has created a society of distracted parents with increasingly affordable smartphones, tablets and laptops on the rise. As soon as we hear that familiar ping or beep we grab our phones or turn to our laptops to immediately become engrossed in the latest message or text. Now that we’ve learned how to manipulate these mobile devices, we need to practice turning them off and unplugging so the kids get more of our attention. The same rules should also apply to the kids who are just as connected as the grownups these days. (See Technology & Kids: How Much is Too Much?)
Typically, when one or more children in the family have special needs they consume a lot of the parents’ time and energy. In addition, modifications are often made to accommodate the child’s issues. So much attention is placed on the special needs child that parents often don’t realize the negative impact it has on the other children.
Whether parents work 16 hours a day at the office or conduct most of their business at home from their phones and laptops, children feel unimportant when their parents can’t seem to make time for them. Many parents have said in hindsight that their biggest regret is not spending enough time with their children when they were younger.
It goes without saying that the most dangerous drivers are distracted drivers. Although drivers who text or check their emails are the worst violators, there are many other ways drivers become distracted, especially when kids are in the car. Some common examples are the mom who is reaching into the backseat to pass out snacks or find a toy, or the dad who is frantically trying to set up the DVD – all while driving 60 mph down the highway. And, then there is the alarming number of children who are being left in hot cars by distracted parents.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect parents to never be distracted. And, a certain amount of benign parental distraction can be helpful so children can develop problem solving skills and discover their own pursuits.
However, it’s important to strike a healthy balance which is sometimes not easy to do on your own. If you or someone you know is under a great deal of stress, dealing with challenging issues, or having a hard time staying focused, please seek the help of a family therapist or mental health professional. A qualified professional can provide insight and make objective suggestions while working toward specific goals to bring balance back into your life.