Are you phubbing your kids?
June 6, 2018 | 1:16 PM
by Farzeen Ashik
An illustration on phubbing

Phone + Snubbing = Phubbing. It’s a global phenomenon that is threatening the social fabric of our lives. We have all been either perpetrators or victims of phubbing. And let’s be honest; it’s only going to get worse.

I knew I needed a reality check when both my teenager and my three-year-old told me to get off the phone and pay attention to them in two separate instances last week. And mind you, I wasn’t checking my Facebook or Instagram but I was answering emails and Whatsapp messages from work. When my teen walked off with a disgusted look on her face I knew I had to shake myself out of the addiction and be more mindful of my children.

Get the phone out of the way: You’re home after work or coffee with your friends and it’s time to spend a few quality moments with your kids. The first thing to do would be to keep your phone away, preferably in a different room so they can have your undivided attention. We know very well that once we hear that tell-tale ping we can’t help ourselves, we just have to pick up the damn thing and check it out. A set of studies showed that just having a phone out and present during a conversation (say, on the table between you) interferes with your sense of connection to the other person, the feelings of closeness experienced, and the quality of the conversation. I don’t think I need to say more.

Excuse yourself: If you get a phone call or have to respond urgently to a message while you are engaged with your children then at least have the decency to excuse yourself. Apologise and let them know you need a few moments to handle the problem and that you will be back with them shortly. They aren’t going to be too pleased but at least they won’t feel ignored or snubbed. Brain imaging has shown that being ignored registers as a physical pain. People snubbed in favour of technology in turn become more likely to attach themselves to their phones in unhealthy ways, thereby increasing their own feelings of stress and depression.

Break the vicious cycle: Studies have shown that the use of mobile phones is like an addiction for our brain. We get addicted and then we are caught up in this vicious cycle which we cannot seem to break. “It is ironic that cellphones, originally designed as a communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster interpersonal connectedness,” write David and Roberts in their study Phubbed and Alone.

A ‘phubbed’ individual turns to social media and their compulsive behaviour presumably leads them to phub others — perpetuating and normalising the practice and problem of “phubbing.” You see what I’m talking about?

Kids model our behaviour: Let’s not forget that our kids see us as role models. The more we sit hunched over our phone oblivious to the real people around us, the less connected we are going to be with them. Also, is this the kind of communication we want to show our kids? Healthy communication needs to be face-to-face, with proper eye contact; we need to study the person’s facial expressions and body language too. You don’t get all that from texting. And if this continues you are going to be raising socially awkward kids.

Be present: Tapping on your phone while your daughter is trying to tell you how many units of Biology she has revised does not send out the right message. After a while she’s just going to stop telling you what’s happening in her life. It’s hard to be present mentally if your phone is constantly distracting you. Also, it creates distance in your relationships. Be engaged when your little one is belting out the latest rendition of her made-up songs (with made-up words, mind you!). Enjoy the attention your kids shower on you. You don’t need fake online connections to long-lost friends or new ones when you have the people who really matter in your life giving you all the love you need.

Don’t lose control: Don’t let technology rule your life. They are meant to facilitate a better life not make your existing one dysfunctional. Constant use of smartphones sends out a message of avoidance to your kids. You are ignoring what is right in front of you for something else that is remote and perhaps not even as relevant. It diminishes the value of the quality time you spend with your family. Pay attention to what they have to share.

Research by Barbara Fredrickson, beautifully described in her book Love 2.0, suggests that intimacy happens in micro-moments. Another study by Killingsworth and Gilbert showed that a wandering mind is an unhappy one. Being present and mindful will not only make us happier but our kids too.

Farzeen Ashik is the author of the prize-winning novel ‘Rainbow Dorm Diaries – The Yellow Dorm’.

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