Parents using mobile phones and ignoring children

I was doing some yard work in the front recently and on the same afternoon noticed on two different occasions young mothers walking along the sidewalk with their toddlers in tow. As is often the case with children at that age, they were chatting away about all the wonderful things they saw around them. But the mothers were oblivious because they were completely absorbed by their cell phones, staring at them as they walked along.

This is rather sad because very young children can be a source of great enjoyment because through them you once again get a sense of the wonder of the world that it is so easy to take for granted. They also often say the most amusing things and if you are not paying attention, then you miss out. Even worse, children learn a lot by chatting with adults and by not talking with them, you are denying them that opportunity. I wonder how long it will take for the toddlers to realize that the adult is not paying attention to them and stop talking.

I then heard this item on NPR about apps that send alerts to parents locked into their cell phones to not only remind them to talk to their children but also how better to talk to them.

I suppose that is a good thing but find it a little sad that we need to be reminded to talk to our on children. Surely children are deserving of at least the same respect as adults. It would be obviously rude for some to stare at their phone screen and ignore an adult who is talking to them. Why would we do that to children?


  1. says

    I don’t understand why some people have kids at all. They hire someone else to raise them, then have someone else teach them, and otherwise try to ignore them. Hey! You wanted this thing: play with it!

  2. tecolata says

    I remember seeing a woman walking, talking on her cell, and dragging a little girl, walking too fast for the child who kept stumbling. Her shoes were untied and she was tripping over the laces. I approached the mother and, as politely as I possible could, said, “Excuse me, ma’am, your little girl’s shoes are untied”.
    She cursed me.
    Don’t interrupt my call with my child’s risk!

  3. Alexandra Jacobs says

    Complaints about mothers (and it is almost always mothers) on their cell phones instead of watching their children is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, interacting with toddlers, and older kids, and even infants can be amazing. They are often hilarious and oddly insightful, and it is always great to get a look inside their minds. It can also be boring, and repetitive, and isolating. No one can be engaged by a child every waking hour, and a break on the phone is no more sinful then a chat with another parent, or a bit of a book (which can be done on a cell phone), or thinking about something else while your toddler acts out Frozen for you (again).

    I check my email on my phone while with my children, the ability to do that means I can be with them instead of at work as often as I would otherwise be. I read and comment on blogs while taking care of my baby, because while she is amazing in so many ways, her philosophical musings are lacking.

    There is still an automatic assumption that a mother who is not always thinking about her children, and focused on her children is a bad mother. It haunts women at work and leisure. Maybe you think the same criticism when you see a dad on his phone with his kids, but more often any time they spend with their kids is considered good parenting.

  4. screechymonkey says

    Sort of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, isn’t it?

    Parents who are constantly supervising and talking to their children are criticized for being helicopter parents, and for preventing the child from developing any individuality or initiative or capacity to play by and amuse themselves. But a parent who is mere feet away from their child and able to deal with any actual emergency gets criticized for not devoting their full rapt attention to the kid?

    You don’t know what was going on. The mother may have been engrossed in her phone because she’s tending to important work matters; being attached to her phone may be what allows her to keep her job and spend time with her child. Or she may have been scheduling doctor’s appointments or ordering groceries or doing any of the many things people do on their phones that are important to a household.

    Or hell, maybe she was checking in on the Kardashians’ Twitter feed or something just as frivolous. Is she really not entitled to a break? I can’t speak to a toddler for more than 5 minutes without wanting to get away. You don’t know what the relationship is between those mothers and their children. They may spend hours together every day, talking and playing. A few minutes here and there of the kid chattering away without a response seems unlikely to do much harm.

    Parents today have my sympathy. They can’t take their kid for a walk without some stranger judging them.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Americans Are the Most Unhappy Parents Among Developed Countries:

    … social scientists … have found consistent evidence that there is an almost zero association between having children and happiness… parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness…, life satisfaction…, marital satisfaction , and mental well-being … compared with non-parents. … American parents are 13 percent less happy than American non-parents, the largest gap in all the countries surveyed. … countries with “better family policy ‘packages’ had no happiness gap between parents and non-parents.” … more Americans take antidepressants than the residents of any other super-rich country…

  6. says

    This is rather sad because very young children can be a source of great enjoyment because through them you once again get a sense of the wonder of the world that it is so easy to take for granted.

    And maybe, just maybe, they’ve been doing exactly that for hours already, while also cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking, etc.
    This “mothers looking at their cellphones and not taking proper care of their children” is just another version of “women having lives instead of devoting themselves 100% to their children”.
    What about the fathers of those children missing out on all the wondefull things children have to tell them?

  7. Dr Sarah says

    In addition to agreeing with the people who have already pointed out that you have *no idea* how much time those mothers spend overall on listening to their children, and can’t make judgement calls like that based on a two-minute snapshot of their lives, I’d also like to challenge the fallacy that it’s rude not to give someone your full attention every time they want to talk to you.

    Due to the recent stuff going down on here, I’ve been browsing through a lot of old posts and articles about harassment… and one thing that came up was the whole issue of the man who tries to strike up conversation with a woman who is clearly engrossed in her book, and then *gets all narky when she goes on being engrossed in her book instead of dropping everything to talk to him*. Because obviously that woman exists to provide him with attention when he wants it, not to have any sort of desires of her own about what she wants to be doing with that time.

    So, when I read your penultimate sentence hot on the heels of that… the irony struck me. Now, obviously there are differences between a stranger trying to strike up conversation with you and your own child doing so. But, still, do we really want to keep supporting this fallacy that it’s somehow rude of people (more specifically, women) to signal that they don’t want a conversation right now, and that they shouldn’t get to decide that?

  8. lanir says

    Surely children are deserving of at least the same respect as adults.</blockquote

    I suppose everyone could tell me my experiences are all outliers but from what I experienced growing up even before cellphones was that adults who show children respect are very rare.

  9. blf says

    There is also the point the people where engrossed in their telephones whilst moving. Great way to collide, trip, or other needless dangers and risks. If you need to take / make a call, then move out of the main path and do it whilst stationary. Stop being a hazard to yourself, the child, and others.

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