Where’s Your Attention Going?

As I walk into the house after being at work all day, my kids always run up to me excited to see me. But after moments of being home, I crash on the couch and pull out the phone. Where is your attention going as a parent?

Recently I read an article about this that really opened my eyes. It talks about how neuroscience researchers have a term for our clinging reactions to the constant attention seeking demands of our phones—we live in a state of “continuous partial attention.”

What does that mean? We rarely pay full attention to any one task, to the neglect of all others. With notifications tailgating our every move, our stress levels are heightened and our attention spans diminishing—especially in the presence of our kids.

Our relationship with our devices may be impacting our children more deeply than we realize. One such study recently found that distracted parental attention might have damaging effects on our babies’ cognitive development, especially their ability to process pleasure.

Let me paint a picture for you. As I walk into the house after getting home from work, my little girl runs up to me wanting my attention. She has missed me all day and to her that is a very long time. When I walk away from her to be with my phone, what kind of a message does that give her? I am saying that my phone is more important than she is.

Our children want and need us more than anything else on the planet—especially in those first few years of life. If research is beginning to show that our inability to put the phone down is wiring our kids’ brains in such harmful ways, perhaps it’s time we begin to show our children they’re more important than the phone.

After all this information was brought to my attention I really sat back and started to think how much attention I pay to my phone, rather than my kids. After one day I was heartbroken.

Because of this, I decided when I am home my time and focus is on my family. Let’s be real though, we are in a world where cutting these things out is difficult. Here are great tips to make it easier:

  1. Set only certain times of the day you check email or social media. If you have scheduled times where you check email or social media. You won’t be so tempted to constantly be answering every notification coming into your phone while you’re with your children. Turn it off and own your time.
  2. Have specific playtimes with your kids where no phones are allowed. You know those times when you really want to talk to your spouse but he/she is nose deep in the phone? Imagine that feeling—times a hundred—for your children who are dependent on your attention for brain growth. Set aside a minimum of 20 minutes of command-free playtime each day where phones are nowhere in sight.
  3. No phones at mealtimes. The research showing the positive benefits of telling stories and talking to one another over dinner is beyond plentiful. Our devices are not placemats. Our children are not invisible; don’t let them feel like they are. There will come a day when you’ll want to talk to them, but by then, you’ll be invisible.
  4. If you work from home, make sure you’re clear with your children when you’re working and when it’s playtime. Whether it’s closing the doors or putting up a sign, set an expectation for your kids where they learn to differentiate between work and play. This way, they won’t interrupt your work.

For me, I have to physically put my phone in another room and turn it off when playtime begins. This way the two of us don’t confuse the two.

Continuous partial attention is not only making us anxious, it’s making our kids anxious, too. Separate your tasks, and not only will you be more productive with work, your kids will also learn that they’re worthy of your full, undivided attention. As they should.