Smartphone and Inattentive Parenting

The scene is an all too familiar one: A parent takes his/her kids to the park to play. The parent then gets on their cellphone to either talk or surf, leaving the kids to their own devices. The kids beg the parent to help them, all to no avail. The kid gives up and plays by him or herself. This is just morally wrong. Why squander the opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids, rather than give your undivided attention to a small 3″ x 4″ box? We are negatively addicted to our smartphones. All this observed in my predominantly Mainland Chinese community here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Part of my summer routine is to go to the park with Little Weed. He is off with his friends, but usually within eye sight, and I keep a long distance watch over his gang. I have witnessed inattentive parenting at our local park for about 4-5 years now, and cases are growing. The scene starts innocently enough, with the parents bring their kids to the park. Once at the park the parents glue their eyeballs to their smartphones and leave the kids to their own devices. There have been a couple of times, rare, where the kids have hurt themselves.

Here are some typical situations:

  • Kid incessantly calls to parents for help on some playground apparatus, only to be ignored. The kids eventually give up. This can go on for about 10 minutes. The parent may look up only occasionally.
  • Kid goes to play with his friends and actually leaves the playground. Mother looks up 10 minutes later, looks for kid and then freaks out, not at herself but to scold the older child (only 2 years older). The mother eventually finds the kid, hits the older sibling, and for punishment, they all storm home. How ridiculous is that?
  • Kid is just learning to walk. Mother’s nose is buried in her smartphone. Kid teeters away, then learns how to watch and follow the older kids. He climbs a playground apparatus until he is at the middle, or worse, at the top, then shreaks in fear of falling. Usually another parent, not the Smartphone sniffing mother, comes to the kid’s rescue. The mother, sure the kid is down safely on the ground, goes back to her Smartphone.

The usual situation is not that the parent just gets on the phone for a couple of seconds, always watching their child. The usual situation is that the mother lets the kid go do whatever the kid wants and is on their smartphone for 10s of minutes or more, all without not looking up to monitor their child.

While the playground is usually a safe place, in this day and age another parent will hesitate to help a child that is not theirs, even in the Chinese community. you really do not know the other parent very well, so social etiquette dictates caution.

I see that I am not alone in seeing this phenomenon: Check out Parents on Phones

A new study from Boston Medical Center reveals that parents who get absorbed by email, games or other apps have more negative interactions with their children, making them feel like they’re competing for attention with their parents’ gadgets


Fresh air is good for everyone, but do you really want your kids to start to resent time with you at the playground? They are kids and at times they need attention or they will get into trouble or get hurt.

Are the things you watch on your Smartphone more important than your kid’s safety and well being? Can you not wait until they are at home in a safer environment to do your 30 minutes of surfing? Smartphone use is addictive and there are negative consequences for kids today. I wonder if when these kids grow up that they will treat their kids the same way that they were treated today? Or when these kids grow up and are taking care of their parents in old age, will they be as callous and inattentive to their parents. Kids learn much from their parents’ actions, so this is not very far fetched.

What do you do at the park with your kids?

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