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The group fighting to make tech less addictive
01:30 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Am I a Bad Parent? is a CNN Parenting parenthood advice column. Send us your confidential questions about any worrisome parenting behaviors you’re having, and we’ll help you work through the problem – and the guilt.

CNN  — 

I often feel guilty that I spend too much time on my phone when I’m with my kids, and I feel that there is a lot of “shaming” of moms for this in the media and elsewhere. But is it really that harmful for them?

My kids get way more attention from me than I ever got from my own parents. My mom was loving and kind, and I never felt neglected, but she almost never played with me and was usually distracted by cooking/cleaning/watching television, etc. She also spent a lot of time on the phone, chatting to friends for hours while I did my own thing.

I play with my kids at least an hour every day, read to them, do art projects with them, take them places and so on. But I often check my email or the news or Facebook or whatever on my phone when I’m with them or at the park – mainly because child care is exhausting and I need a break. Is this really so bad?

Signed,

Need My Screen Time

Dear Need My Screen Time,

You may be familiar with the many ways cell phones can disrupt family life. It’s “contaminated time,” they call it, when our kids need us but we aren’t really present. The phrase conveys that the purity of the parent-child bond has been compromised. But the degree of the toxicity, and the threat it poses, remain an agita-producing mystery.

Answering your questions about potentially bad parenting behavior. We will help you work through the guilt.

You’re probably also familiar with the other pervasive critique of contemporary parents, which is that we’re overdoing it. They call us helicopters, lawnmowers – I predict “wheelbarrows” is coming next to describe parents who direct their children’s every move – and tell us to take two steps away from our children lest we stifle them.

So the options seem to be either contaminate or stifle. And we wonder why parents today are so anxious. Somewhere in between these two options must exist a state in which a child feels neither neglected nor overwhelmed. And in that state, I’d like to believe, a parent can occasionally space out with the help of their phone.

The fact that you sent me a question signifies that you are the kind of parent who cares enough to seek out advice about a potential problem. And that means, I suspect, that your kids are doing just fine.

It’s you I’m worried about. Instead of looking at how your phone time affects your kids, I want to consider how it is affecting you. How does that tiny and yet infinite computer in your pocket affect your experience of parenting?

You deserve a break sometimes. That’s a given. It’s using the cell phone for the break that makes it tricky.