Absent Parents

It used to be that if you mentioned an “absent parent,” it meant a parent who wasn’t—for whatever reason—physically present with his or her child. Today, however, with the wonders of technology, it is possible to be present to be in a room with one’s child, even holding the child on one’s lap, and be completely absorbed in the important business call on one’s cellphone, the solitaire game on one’s netbook, shopping on one’s laptop, surfing the web on one’s smartphone, etc.

Whereas previously, parents pushing children on the swings would talk to their children (“Look at the squirrel!”) or each other, they’re now often engaged on the phone—physically present; mentally absent.

I’ve even seen a mother too engaged in her mobile phone conversations to stop talking while crossing a moderately busy four-lane street with four children in tow.

In the Handbook of Child Psychology: Social, emotional, and personality development (ed. Damon and Lerner, 2006), an essay “Socialization in the Family: Ethnic and Ecological Perspectives” by Parke and Buriel states: “Quality rather than quantity of parent-child interaction is the important predictor of cognitive and social development” (p. 438).

What is to be concluded, then, when it’s evident from a trip to the local playground or articles like “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” in the New York Times this week, that parents are often not spending quality time with their children?

They may be physically present, but their minds are engaged elsewhere, and parent-child interaction is reduced to the coincidence of bodies in proximity in space. This suggests that the cognitive and social development of at least some young children in our society is at risk—

Something to think about….