Is your phone stopping you from being a good mom?

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On the sides of the sports field, at playdates, in restaurants and even while out shopping, it’s common for us to whip our phones out while the kids play or are suitably entertained.

Recent research has found that we spend more time online than we do watching television and that, thanks to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones (and data connections), we’re more connected than ever before.

The simple convenience of our mobile devices means that we can still “get things done” while our children are at play. Our mobile phones have become nifty lifelines for our daily lives and an almost essential tool for juggling all that needs to get done in a day.

Watch: Motherhood rhapsody

From the very palm of our hands, we can arrange our schedules, stay up to date with friends and fire off those all-important emails. Add in the allure of instant news, social networks and an infinite range of mindless games we can play and pretty soon, we could find ourselves missing important moments , even those of our children – like their first steps, first bicycle ride or even the moment they make a new friend. The down side of our faces being happily focused on our screens is that we could end up missing so much of their lives.

Means of distraction

The term “passive” or “distracted parenting” has been used to describe how we whip out our phones whenever our children are suitably occupied with an activity. These terms underline the notion that, while we are in the same room or area as our child, we’re not actively engaged in what they’re doing because we’re focused on our mobile phones or tablets.

This can mean our children are more prone to accidents on the playground or even wandering off if we become too engrossed in the world behind our screens.

Today’s lifestyle, however, demands a constant connection with the outside world – whether it’s to keep on top of your work demands or to stay tuned into current affairs. So it’s important that a balance be struck.

Read: 20 things you need to know about your newborn

Let the children play

It’s also quite common for us to use our mobile phones to keep our children entertained. With the barrage of educational apps, YouTube videos and other media available to us, it can be tempting to hand our phones over to our children just that we have the time alone to get an important chore completed without worrying about them.

In fact, research conducted by UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has found that more and more parents are purchasing tablets specifically for their children.

The educational benefits of all these are immense, but the amount of time a child spends on any mobile devices should be carefully regulated, so that he also gets enough physical activity required for his overall development, which is equally, if not more, important.

The World Health Organisation recommends that children from the age of five experience at least 60 minutes of physical exercise or activity per day. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that a child’s use of television, mobile devices, computer games and the like be limited to a maximum of two hours per day.

Also read: 10 baby hacks to help you through that crazy first year

Finding a balance

Marc Forrest, a mobile-mad dad of three in Durban and convenor of the annual iPhoneographySA exhibition, believes that we need to find a true equilibrium as we gauge the positive and negative effects of mobile technologies on our families.

“Given the technologies out there, we have a world full of resources right at our fingertips, and loads of educational applications which allow our children access to information and skills they would have never had before.

“But it does detract, probably more than ever these days. I often see parents engaged in their mobile phones while kids are tugging at them. Families at restaurants all have a phone in their hands and no one is talking to each other. It’s not always the parents though.

Teens are becoming more and more dependent on these devices as well and are detracting from family time,” he says. Marc also believes that definitive “no phones” times should be put into place for the whole family, including dinner time and other important parts of the day.

It’s important for our families, and our sanities, that we seek to find a balance between our phone and real life. Most of all, we need to remember that our mobile phones are enabling devices that let us conduct all activities that make our lifestyles possible. Mobile phones cannot, however, be our lives, and it’s important to change our perspective towards embracing a true balance between our screens and our children on the swings.

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