Dangers of distracted parenting: Why your noise addiction is bad for your kids
(and how to reconnect with them)
Courtesy of Dottie DeHart
We worry about protecting our kids from the impacts of digital distraction, but we are distracted too. Joe McCormack offers tips for cutting the “noise” and being a more present parent.
Parenting has never been easy. But in the Digital Age—with its texts, emails, endless news cycles, and social media platforms—there’s a new challenge. Digital distraction. (And no: We’re not talking about the kids here. We’re talking about you.) Who hasn’t taken work calls while schlepping the kids to ballet or soccer practice? And who hasn’t fielded work emails at the dinner table or scrolled through Facebook at the playground?
We’re all guilty of half-listening to our kids in the name of screen time. But Joe McCormack says we shouldn’t accept distracted parenting as the “new normal.”
“Having your attention perpetually divided impacts your role as a parent, and it certainly impacts your children,” says McCormack, author of the new book NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus (Wiley, January 2020, ISBN: 978-1-119-55337-3, $25.00). “Not only does it rob you of your focus, it sends a harmful message to kids that they are not as important as whatever’s happening on your phone or laptop.”
All these texts, social media alerts, emails, and other forms of digital distraction are what McCormack calls “noise.” They deplete our attention spans, fill us with “empty calories” of useless information, and cause us to tune out what really matters. No wonder more and more people—many of them parents—are joining McCormack’s “Just Say No to Noise” movement.
Constant distraction deters intimate bonding and connection with our kids. And they are perceptive: They can tell when they have your undivided attention and when you are phoning it in (pun intended). Even if they don’t show it, they feel unheard and uncared for.
Plus, kids see you as a role model. When they notice you talking to others with one eye on the computer or scrolling in your phone instead of focusing on their piano recital, they will start mimicking that behavior in their own social interactions.
“You’re hurting yourself, too,” says McCormack. “When your attention is divided, you miss out on moments that matter. Childhood is brief enough. Don’t let noise steal more of it.”
So…what can we do to change our relationship with noise and become more present parents? McCormack says it’s not that hard to make a few simple changes that will have a huge impact. For example:
Just say no to noise. If you catch your mind drifting to what might be happening on social media, mentally say “no” and redirect your attention to your child and the interaction you’re having. Potty training your toddler and tempted to tweet? Just say no. Thinking of jumping up from dessert and returning a text? Ignore the impulse and finish your pie.
Draw some firm boundaries between work and home. Give your work your full attention during your work hours so you can unplug when you’re at home. Then when you are home, really be home. Power down your work computer and resist checking your email unless special circumstances require you to do so.
Stop making the “It’s for work” excuse. “You might be tempted to justify being on your phone all the time by saying, ‘Well, it’s work; at least I’m not on Facebook,'” says McCormack. “That sends the message to kids that it’s okay to be distracted if it’s for work. It’s not okay. Work could go on 24/7 if you let it.”
Drop the devices at dinner. Stop being the family that doesn’t communicate at mealtimes because everyone is glued to their phones. Make dinner a sacred time. Put away all electronics and focus on each other. Share how your day went, have conversations, and enjoy this quiet time to be together.
Set family-wide limits on screen time. Make a family agreement about how much screen time should be allowed and stick to those parameters. One good technique is the 7-to-7 rule. Put your phone away at 7:00 p.m. and don’t touch it again until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. Make your teenagers do the same thing. It’s challenging, but following this rule reduces daily screen time, which provides opportunities to spend more quality time with each other.
Corral devices (and keep them mostly out of sight). If you’re like most people, you have phones, tablets, laptops, and plenty of charging cables all around the house. Find a dedicated box, shelf, or cabinet that not only serves as a hiding spot for technology but also provides a station to charge the items overnight. This should help you keep your distracting devices out of sight and out of mind.
Replace screen time with family bonding activities. When families put away their devices, it opens up time to do more fun and rewarding activities. Read a book together. Have a family game night. Take a hike together. Have a picnic. Visit a zoo or a theme park.
Practice present listening. Present listening means giving your listening as a gift and not expecting anything in return. It’s not always easy to practice present listening with your children—especially young children who obviously are less intellectually advanced than you. When you feel tempted to tune out or reach for your phone, resist the urge and dial in to your conversation (even if that conversation consists of you and your three-year-old reciting your ABCs). The payoff is huge for both you and your child.
“No, you can’t quit your job, drop all other responsibilities, and spend your every waking moment engaging with your child,” concludes McCormack. “But that’s even more reason to make the time you do spend with them count. It’s not enough to be physically present. But when you put down your phone and engage with them in a meaningful way, you can be sure you’re raising happy and healthy kids.”
Joseph McCormack is the author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus. He is passionate about helping people gain clarity when there is so much com¬peting for our attention. He is a success¬ful marketer, entrepreneur, and author. His first book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley, 2014), sets the standard for concise communication.
Joe is the founder and managing director of The BRIEF Lab, an organization dedicated to teaching professionals, military leaders, and entrepreneurs how to think and communicate clearly. His clients include Boeing, Harley-Davidson, Microsoft, Mastercard, DuPont, and select military units and government agencies. He publishes a weekly podcast called “Just Saying” that helps people master the elusive skills of focus and brevity.
To learn more, visit www.noisethebook.com.
NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus (Wiley, January 2020, ISBN: 978-1-119-55337-3, $25.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page on www.wiley.com.