When you’re at the playground with your kids, and they’re happily playing on the swings, what do you do with your time?
Do you get absorbed in texting and ‘facebooking’?
If so, you could be missing important interactions with your kids, and possibly putting them at risk, according to new research.
A study by the University of Washington showed that mobile phones were a powerful distraction, causing parents at the playground to ignore their children more than any other distraction.
Dr Justin Coulson, a parenting speaker and author, told Hope Media that it’s a concerning trend.
“The researchers had 32 instances where they saw a child trying to interrupt an adult who was using the phone,” he said, “and in nearly 60 percent of those cases, the caregiver completely failed to respond, or speak, or even look away from the phone.”
In the same study, those parents who put the phone away and chatted to people instead, were much less distracted.
“When a child tried to get the attention of a caregiver who was having a chat with a friend, or helping a sibling, or just sitting there, only 11 percent of the adults failed to respond to the child’s request,” Dr Coulson said.
“In other words, if you’re not staring at a phone, and your child wants you, you’ll turn and give attention to the child.”
Why Getting Distracted Can Be Risky
Most parents don’t need scientists to tell them that kids tend to play up more when mum or dad is on the phone.
But just to be sure, the Cohen Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) in New York has done research to prove it.
In their study of children and parents in New York playgrounds, CCMC researchers found that children whose caregivers were distracted in any way, were significantly more likely to engage in risky behaviours.
These included walking up the slide, throwing sand, sliding head first, pushing other children and jumping off moving swings.
At times this led to injuries.
Children Need Their Parents To Be Available
Obviously there are a number of good reasons parents need to pull out the phone while the kids are playing.
Glancing at the time, taking photos of the kids, or checking texts to see if friends have arrived, are all important.
But Dr Coulson said children need their parents to connect with them while they play, and to make watching their kids their main priority.
“Sometimes we take the kids to the park just so we don’t have to interact with them, so they can run around and go crazy and meet friends and play with them,” he said.
“But even then, if we can resist the urge to get out the phone, or at least make sure the kids are absolutely engaged in something and be completely willing to put the phone away when they call for us, that’s the most important thing.
“We’ve got to remember the whole reason we’re there at the park, and that’s so the kids can run around and have fun, and part of having fun, especially when you’re a child, but even when you’re a grownup, is that you want to share your fun experience with other people who mean something to you.
“So if the kids want us, we’ve got to be available to them.”
Don’t Feel Too Bad – Even Experts Aren’t Perfect
While Dr Justin Coulson advises parents to put their phone away as much as possible at the playground, he said he’s been guilty of phone-distraction himself at times.
“Just on the weekend I got in trouble from my kids for doing exactly that,” he said. “I pulled out the phone because I had a couple of work emails I was waiting on. I wasn’t playing Candy Crush or anything like that, but I did pull out the phone and started to check it out.
“My kids came to me and said, ‘you always get mum or our older sister in trouble for being on the phone and now we’re at the park, and we want you to push us on the swing and you’re on your phone!”
“I got bossed by my five-year-old.”
-Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting speaker, author and researcher, and founder of happyfamilies.com.au.
-Dr Coulson’s thoughts on Parents And Mobile Phones.
-More on the University of Washington research and a press article about the CCMC research.