I Want to Be There For My Baby. That Means Limiting My Own Screen Time

"More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents," Erika Christakis writes in The Atlantic.

By Liberty McArtor Published on June 23, 2018

Spikes in teen depression and even suicide can be linked to social media. We know too much screen time is bad for children. But so are their parents’ digital habits.

“More than screen-obsessed young children, we should be concerned about tuned-out parents,” author and early childhood educator Erika Christakis writes in The Atlantic.

What About My Screen Time?

The article, “The Dangers of Distracted Parenting,” was of particular interest to me. In a few months I’ll be welcoming my firstborn. Like most parents, I have lofty aspirations about the upbringing I want to give my child. Like most adults today, I struggle with addiction to my smartphone.

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Recent events have exposed just how bad my addiction is. My husband and I moved, and had to wait four days for our wifi to be reconnected. I joked with friends that we were living in the Dark Ages. I’m embarrassed to admit how little of a joke that actually felt like.

And that got me thinking. I tell myself I’ll limit our baby’s screen time. I may ban it altogether, at least in the early years. But how can I keep a tight watch on the baby’s screen time if I’m not willing to give up my own?

There, But Not

Christakis notes that today, parents (including working mothers) spend more time with their children than most have throughout history. “But the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz. Parents are constantly present in their children’s lives physically, but they are less emotionally attuned.”

The problem is that “child development is relational,” but parents are increasingly pulled in a hundred different directions thanks to the internet and their smart phones. As Christakis writes, “many have built their daily life on the miserable premise that they can always be on.”

I tell myself I’ll limit our baby’s screen time. But how can I keep a tight watch on the baby’s screen time if I’m not willing to give up my own?

When parents are constantly distracted by a text here, an incoming call there, another email notification on their phone, they’re less connected to their kids. That’s worse than you might think. “Distracted adults … not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them,” she explains.

This doesn’t mean children must be the center of their parents’ attention every second of every day. Intentional time away from parents builds a child’s independence, especially as they grow older. The problem as Christakis presents it is when parents are “always present physically, thereby blocking children’s autonomy, yet only fitfully present emotionally.”

A Spiritual Problem

This is more than just a cultural phenomenon or public health problem. It’s a spiritual problem. And if I contribute to it, I’ll be disobeying God. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” Colossians 3:23 says. How can I work heartily at anything — let alone the huge responsibility of parenting — when I’m constantly distracted?

Missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

When I’m a parent, I want to be all there, not constantly distracted by meaningless notifications and social media posts. I’ll benefit from it, and so will the people in my life. But even more importantly, I’ll be better able to serve God by truly giving my all in each moment.

Time to Break the Addiction

So far in this pregnancy, I’ve read my fair share of parenting books and considered plenty of child-rearing philosophies. But one of the most important things I can do for my child is very simple. Be present. Truly present. That means breaking any digital addictions I have. I’ve worked on this in the past, but still have a ways to go.

So it’s time for me to kick the addiction for good. As Christakis makes clear, my baby depends on it.

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  • Lisa

    Congratulations, Liberty, on your first baby! You’re going to be a great mom!

    My addiction/distraction when my kids were small was books. My mother’s was TV. None of us get parenting perfect, and yet kids do okay. The fact that you’re aware is more than half the battle. Truly, once that baby is here and needs you like no one else, you’ll have new priorities which will give you a new attitude about your phone.

    God bless you and your baby!

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