Are you a distracted parent?


I'm hoping you'll say "Yeah. Kind of." Like me. So I don't feel as guilty about it. Try as I may to be mindful throughout my day, at my job, and with my children, I find myself reaching for my phone more often than I'd like to admit.

I rationalize it in many ways. And yes, my reasons are legitimate sometimes.

I'm looking up something important for my kids' health, or I'm finding a new recipe for dinner. I'm taking a picture of my cute kids, and then checking Facebook really quickly.

I'm connecting with friends, which is important for my own sanity. I'm trying to unwind from a long stressful day by looking at funny memes. I'm taking a quick break from the hours upon hours I spend taking care of my kids, feeding my kids, bathing my kids, snuggling with my kids, and playing with my kids.

I'm catching up on world events, and becoming a more educated, worldly person... right?

But deep down I know that I want and need to be a more present parent, even when these other distractions seem really important and alluring.

And it may be easier said than done.

Especially because according to healthline.com, notifications are addicting. Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UCLA, says that "texts light up the same areas of the brain as other addictive substances, like drugs." Uh oh.

Even though it's difficult, it certainly is important, according to Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University and author of "The Big Disconnect". She has interviewed countless families about this topic.

She says her studies have shown technology is fragmenting families, leaving children feeling lonely. Sadly, one thing she heard over and over again from kids themselves is how sad and angry they feel when they have to compete with a cell phone or tablet for their parent’s attention.

Let that sink in. :(

The bottom line is that kids notice when you’re on your phone at every stoplight, at dinner, or during bath time. According to Steiner-Adair, not only can these behaviors strain our relationships with our kids, it can also reinforce the behaviors we don't want to see.

Just as modeling healthy eating habits is the best way to get our kids eating right, modeling the technology use we want to see is the most effective way to shape our kids' behaviors.

So, here are some tips to become a more present parent, and strike a more balanced approach to technology:

1.) No screen time during meals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this, and study after study has shown the benefits of direct and meaningful conversation with kids at mealtime.

According to The Family Dinner Project, recent studies link regular family dinners with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, eating disorders and obesity, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. It has also been shown to boost vocabulary as much as reading.

Keeping your phone off during this time will help everyone benefit more from this important time.

2.) Keep computers and other gadgets in a central place.

I've created a charger hub near the garage door where we plug everything in when we get home. This sends the message that devices are not attached to us, and they have a separate home that is not our hand or pocket. My next step is to buy an actual alarm clock so I don't have to bring my phone up to bed with me.

3.) Establish other times and places to be unplugged.

Establish and agree upon the rules together as a family. For instance, set up cellphone-free zones in the car, at mealtimes, during family playtime, and at bedtime.

Consider agreeing on one night a week where everyone is unplugged, or (gasp!) a whole day on the weekend.

4.) Don't fear boredom.

Boredom doesn't have to bad. Think back to when you were a kid and feeling bored. That's exactly when you used your wild imagination to do something awesome, like build forts and make art projects and sail away in a cardboard box. It may take a minute for kids (and adults) to get re-directed and engrossed in something else, but it's worth the conscious effort.

5.) Practice mindfulness when you're with your kids.

For all of the books and articles that have been written about this cool new idea of "mindfulness," it really just boils down to a one simple idea. Be present. Listen to what your kids say. Notice the toys you're playing with. Engage with the game you're playing. Intentionally enjoy this one moment with your kids. It's not a bunch of New Age mumbo jumbo, it's just a really simple way to connect with your life.

Do you have any other tips for being a less distracted, more mindful parent?


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