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Yet Another Reason Why Parents Should Put Phones Away Around Kids

The Short of It

We've already learned that kids feel unimportant when parents spend too much time on their phones, but a new study offers another reason you might want to think twice before checking your phone in front of your kids.

The Lowdown

According to a new study, parents whose eyes drift to their phones when their supposed to be hanging with their kids may raise children with shorter attention spans.

Uh oh.

The study is the first to show a direct connection between how long a caregiver looks at an object and how long an infant's attention remains focused on that same object.

"The ability of children to sustain attention is known as a strong indicator for later success in areas such as language acquisition, problem-solving and other key cognitive development milestones," said lead researcher Chen Yu. "Caregivers who appear distracted or whose eyes wander a lot while their children play appear to negatively impact infants' burgeoning attention spans during a key stage of development."

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For the experiment, parents and infants wore head-mounted cameras so researchers could observe them playing from a first-person viewpoint in a space set up to mimic a typical playroom. No instructions were given.

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Here's what the scientists found by observing: When the infants and parents paid attention to the same object for more than 3.6 seconds, the children honed in for 2.3 seconds longer on average, even after the parents had looked away.

Is 2.3 seconds a lot? It is when you consider that it's nearly four times longer than what was observed of children whose parents' attention waned more quickly. And, over the course of a few days and months, those seconds add up to tons of missed opportunities to engage during a critical stage in mental development.

The Upshot

This study is an important reminder for parents that the attention we give our children is truly a gift. But let it also serve as a warning for those of us who keep a constant eye on our phones. I admit, I used to struggle with this daily. Then I realized that simply turning off all my notifcation alerts—for emails, texts, Facebook messages and Snapchats—would help alleviate the desire to constantly check my phone every time I heard a PING! So I did it. And it's made a huge difference in the quality of my interactions with my kids. Do I always commit to a 100 percent hands-free life when I'm with them? Nope, not even close, but I'm still working on it.

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Want to give it a try? The next time you're hanging with your kids and you're tempted to check email or scroll through Facebook, try focusing on your child instead. You may be surprised by the difference your undivided attention can make.

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