iphones, blackberries? Why the parent in you should put them down

Hi and thanks for reading!
Get your daily dose of A Child Grows sent to your inbox free!
Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Alice Kaltman

Staying Present in the Era of Distraction. Turn Off and Tune In

by Alice Kaltman

When I get sullen, rejecting glares from my teenage daughter while my younger parent friends get unreserved affection and boundless enthusiasm from their toddlers I turn a little green with envy.

But I don’t always envy today’s younger generation of parents. I especially don’t envy the challenge they face trying to remain present and connected to their little ones in today’s iphone, blackberry culture. There’s no denying how useful and important cell phones and cyber-culture are in today’s world. You wouldn’t be reading these words right now if it weren’t for the wonders of the internet. But sometimes it becomes a bit too much, and even good parents chose their electronics over their kids.

On a recent trip to a playground I was appalled by how many electronic devices sprouted from parents hands like budding flowers. I cringed as parent after parent disconnected from their kids to check their phones. The Parenting Coach in me wanted to shout out, “Don’t you guys realize your relationship with your kids splinter every time you answer the phone or check your messages?”

Back in the dark ages of mid-nineties parenting there were no cell phones. The only parents who carried electronic devices were doctors with pagers, and those life-savers were understandably given wide berth. When parents were at playgrounds they played with their kids, talked to other parents or caregivers, or stared off in space. They couldn’t check e-mail or text while their kids slid down slides repeatedly, hundreds and hundreds of times. Parents had to find their way to comfort, or deal with discomfort. They had to experience playground boredom. They had to be present in some way, even if that way was physically or emotionally difficult.

When they pushed their kids in strollers, they chatted. They couldn’t push the stroller with one hand while talking to someone else on a cell. The only person to talk to was that little cutie sitting in front of them. A stroller ride was a shared activity, punctuated, rhythmic and ritualized. Parents pointed out landmarks, stopped to look in store windows. They sang silly songs, practiced words. They turned sidewalk bumps and curbs into amusement park rides. Unless their kid was floating off to a welcomed nap, they engaged. Or at least tried to.

Parenting can be relentless, boring, and stressful. It always was, and always will be. I’m sure many mid-nineties parents would have loved the opportunity to check the web instead of building sand castles. Every parent craves escape from the demands of parenting at some point, or many points, on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis. It’s important to find escape from the tedious tension of parenting, but not at the expense of emotional connection.

So, do yourselves and your kids a favor. If possible, save all phone calls or e-mail checking for during school hours or after bedtime. Consider leaving the phone at home when you go out to do errands or go to the playground. At the very least, put your phone on silent mode so you’re not thinking, “I wonder who that is?” and your kid isn’t thinking, “I wonder if that person is more important (to mommy/daddy) than me?”

Wonder instead about your kid. Who they are, and who they are becoming. Wonder about them by observing them in action, climbing, running, talking, playing. Stay attuned and focused. Better yet, join in the fun.


Alice Kaltman, L.C.S.W. has been working with parents and kids since 1988. In 2006, she co-founded Family Matters NY with Sara Zaslow, L.M.S.W. FMNY is a parenting coaching service for Brooklyn and Manhattan families, providing support through home and office visits. Alice lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn with her teen-age daughter and husband, the sculptor Daniel Wiener. She also writes fiction for kids, and dances professionally in her spare (?) time.  Write to Alice at info@familymattersny.com.

  1. The Parenting Res
  2. To Work or Not To Work?
  3. Regression Over the Holidays
  4. Should you lie to your kids?
  5. Can you get kids to do what you want?
  6. How can family rituals help?
  7. How to help siblings get along
  8. In defense of dads: roughhousing is good
  9. Know-it-all-mom and dad

Similar Posts:


  1. I hear from Karen that aside from the 3 comments here on ACGIB, there has been a flurry of talk on Facebook regarding my posting on cellphone, blackberry, etc. use when parents (or caregivers) are with kids. As I’m not on Facebook, Karen forwarded me a few comments to respond to. I’m sorry if I’ve misled you to believe I think devices are unacceptable under ALL circumstances. That wasn’t my intention.

    One parent makes a good point about the sacrifices of working parents, and how working (or checking in with work) while playing with your child can be a trade-off worth making. I would agree there are situations when this is the best (if not ideal) solution for many families, where technology can be a godsend. I hope that parents who do ‘work while playing’ talk to their kids (even pre-verbal ones) about what it is they’re doing when they glance away at their devices or need to make a quick call. Kids need to know why and when your attention is elsewhere. They may act like it doesn’t matter, but ultimately it does.

    And Kacy, I’m all for the photo-taking. That’s about sharing, not detaching. Snap away!

    And lastly, I don’t mean to imply that all parenting is drudgery and boredom. But sometimes it is, and many parents struggle to accept that fact. Or that the only reason parents check their devices or talk on them while strolling kids is because they are bored, uncomfortable or detached. But sometimes it is. It is for those parents I stress the dark underside of parenting in my writings.

  2. Pining for the parenthood of the 90′s strikes me as overly subjective (why not parenthood in the 70s?). I would imagine many things contribute to the differences between brownstone parenthood of today vs. that of 15-20 years ago. The least of those reasons, to me, are the ubiquity of cell phones.

    If one wishes to cluck at this behavior, perhaps it’d be more productive to talk about out-of-control professional norm expectations and how many people genuinely don’t feel they have the luxury of opting out of those expectations, instead of implying it’s largely about ducking parental stress and playground monotony.

    Internet/social networking addiction might also be an interesting direction to explore?

  3. i love to take photos with my iphone too and then email them- I agree on that note totally!

  4. While I agree, that texting and making phone calls should never take priority over time with your child, I have been given the evil eye because I had my iPhone in hand while at the playground. I was taking photos or video while engaged with my daughter. Photos that allow my daughter and myself to share some of our day with her mother who has is stuck in her office. This technology has made it possible to extend our experience in a way that was not possible on a few years ago.


  1. How to Help Your Kids Build Self-Esteem - A Child Grows | A Child Grows

Leave a Response