I just read a post at The New York Times City Room Blog titled “Smartphones and Dumb Parents” which, as the title suggests, is a long-ish complaint about parents whose attention is on their smartphones instead of their kids. The author complains:

With a so-called smartphone seemingly at every adult’s fingertips, many parents are finding playtime to be the ideal time for answering e-mails, firing off text messages and browsing the Web — leaving their children to cavort about virtually unattended at playgrounds, pools and kiddie gyms.

I get it, and have thought about this quite a bit myself as an iPhone wielding parent and observer of other parents’ behavior “in the wild”: playgrounds, public pools, etc. My current feeling is that technology and communication devices aren’t the main problem, just a new manifestation of an age-old issue: parents sometimes just don’t watch their kids. Or, more generously, sometimes parents just need to check out for a bit. Here’s my response to the Times blog post:

While I agree that email/text/web/other electronic communications have an insidious way of intruding into personal and family time, I don’t think it’s quite fair to demonize smartphone-wielding parents. What about the mother or father a) reading a book or a newspaper, or b) chit-chatting with other parents while ignoring their kid? I see this all the time.

Not two months ago I had to jump into a kiddie pool to snatch out a one-year-old who had fallen in while his dad was reading the paper. (I had been on the verge of jumping up for about 5 minutes as the kid precariously teetered and his dad was engrossed in his paper.)

Why is it worse if the blissfully ignorant parent is using a smartphone instead of some old-school distraction?

What do you think: Is there a meaningful difference between ignoring your kid analog-style, versus being unable to put your smartphone down?


  • No meaningful difference between the two, though one might give you cause to further distance yourself, say out of sight. Distractions are the same either way. There are bad parents and there are good parents. Let us agree, however, that technology doesn’t necessarily help you be a better parent (nor does it make you a worse parent), but merely allows you the freedom to pursue other things. There is no substitute for your physical presence/ connection to the child. Whether interacting or not that physical connection and vigilance has tremendous impact on bonding.

  • Point taken, Peri. Blissfully ignorant parenting comes in many forms and from many times.

    The insidious, “always connected” nature of the smartphone adds a constantly distracting dimension, though. Static content like books and newspapers can’t compete with a bleeping, ticking, twittering device that invites others to intrude on a continual basis.

    IllyJ makes a salient point about distance, too. Smartphones can only divide attention. If I’m talking with another person in a park, there’s at least the potential that now there are *two* people watching for my children in trouble instead of just me. A random phone call, an intriguing tweet, or a conversation on Facebook decidedly drops that number to zero.

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