Distracted parent? Your children could end up depressed, so here’s how to unplug and engage

Not giving our children the attention they need can negatively impact their development.
Not giving our children the attention they need can negatively impact their development.

There are many ways in which you as a parent can be distracted from the task of engaging with the kids. And it’s still a bit of a taboo to admit that your children can be draining, or even worse, boring. 

With tablets, phones, TVs and more on hand to offer a sometimes-welcome respite, it’s easy to become engrossed in a Facebook post or a series pilot or even a work email thread. 

Well, it’s time to switch off, or risk damaging your children forever.

Children need attention

Researchers have found that "fragmented and chaotic maternal care can disrupt proper brain development in infants, which can lead to emotional disorders later in life".

The new study suggests that "when mothers are nurturing their infants, numerous everyday interruptions have a disruptive and potentially long-lasting impact". These disruptions include reaching for your phone.

The UC Irvine Conte Centre on Brain Programming in Adolescent Vulnerabilities found that consistency is key to healthy brain development, otherwise babies are at risk of developing anhedonia, the inability to feel happy, which can be an early indication of adolescent and adult depression.

This particular study was conducted on rats, so the jury is still out on how all this might impact human children. Regardless, children need attention and parents sometimes need a little help in giving them what they need.

How to unplug and engage

No doubt, there is a time and a place for technology, and screen time seems unavoidable. But there is also a time and place to switch off.

  • Schedule one-on-one time with each child. This can be as simple as sharing a bowl of ice cream, or as complicated as cooking a meal together. The activity is less important than the time alone together. 
  • Set aside family time and plan activities to do together. South Africa offers a massive variety of child-friendly spaces, from play parks to mountain trails, so get the kids involved and plan a great day out. 
  • Put down the phones during this scheduled family time. Take photos but resist the urge to post them on Facebook at that very moment. 
  • Make weekends count, and schedule family events ahead of time. Giving everyone something to look forward to is just as good for family morale. 
  • Actively engage with the kids during this time together, ask questions and show you’re listening to their responses.

What our moms say 

We spoke to moms to gather ideas about what counts as quality family time, and how to spend more time with our kids in the daily hustle-bustle. This is what they shared:


We are lucky enough to live near the beach, so if the weather is good we try and “beach it” as often as possible, even if it is just a quick 30 mins after work. I find time out of the house is better quality time with the kids, as at home I am too distracted by the 101 things that need to be done around the house. 


Bed time routine - a story and cuddles and I lie with my daughter for a few minutes. She loves to chat during that time. 


Don't over think it. My 5-year-old son likes shopping with me and asking me about the stuff in the grocery store. Sometimes we practice handwriting and cutting and pasting. 


The small things can count so much, like unpacking groceries, buttering the pans when baking: just little things and it makes them happy


My youngest is attached to me so time with her is no problem, but my oldest is almost 6 now and not interested in her mother. So twice a week when baby is sleeping, an hour before bed time, I switch off the TV and we chat about all sorts of things. 


I believe quality time is just engaging when you can. Not the dismissive 'uh ha' or 'ok' when they are talking, while you're actually thinking about supper or work. It's giving them eye contact and actually listening. It's taking the time to completely stop what you're doing and cuddle them. Getting them to take part in routines (cooking, cleaning etc). It’s talking to them like you would talk to a friend (age appropriately of course). 


 It’s difficult for working moms. Meal times is the best time I spend with my son during the week. He chats endlessly to me, about anything and everything. There are not enough hours in the week day, so this time we make full use of.


I have teenagers, and we somehow all end up in the same part of the house every evening and chat. Very unplanned and unscheduled. It’s like just that certain time of the night they all start looking where the gathering is! 


Those 5 minutes you get to read them a bed time story. Or when they stand helping you carry the washing to the machine or a cuddle on the couch. It doesn’t have to be hours. But it’s the small things that count. 

The consensus seems to be that quality trumps quantity and that the little ones are happy with attention in any form. So, feel free to shop, work out or cook with the kids, but make time to read, hike and just hang out with them too. 

What counts as quality family time for you and your family? How do you ensure the kids get the attention they need to thrive? Tell us by commenting below or emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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