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Hang Ups

Why Checking Your Smartphone Doesn’t Make You A Terrible Parent

You probably already feel guilty about the amount of time you spend checking your phone, instead of, say, staring into your baby’s pleading eyes (apparently they’re unaware of a little app called Words With Friends). Time offered another helping this week that cited how “cell-phone distracted parenting” is damaging your kid’s emotional development.

Not exactly. The study looked at two sets of baby rats (neither of which own iPhones). Some of the rats had comfortably-furnished cages with attentive mothers, others in barren cages with distracted moms that constantly searched for food and bedding. As they grew older, the attention-deprived babies shied away from fun rat activities, like eating sugar and playing with other rats (two indicators of poor emotional development). This led the researchers to conclude distracted parenting can affect a baby’s need for attention. An important finding for research on neglected rodents, but hard to correlate rat-mommy leaving her children to find food to you browsing Instagram — also for delicious food.

Besides the obvious fact rats are not people, the study seems to have everything to do with absentee parenting — a well-established area in early development research — and nothing to do with tech habits. The time you spend Crushing some Candy is far less than the average rat spends gathering materials for its nest or finding food (although, that would be a cool game) Hence, it’s unfair to say you’re inflicting damage on your kid.

Earlier this month, Time published a more balanced and realistic piece on the case for somewhat-distracted parenting, where working mom Rachel Simmons argued a) not giving your kid constant attention keeps them from becoming an entitled brat, and b) checking your phone helps you stay employed. It’s a fair point, given studies that show helicopter parenting is not working either. As a general rule of thumb, you should be looking at your phone less and your child more. Because nobody, except for you, calls your kids rats.

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