How poor phone etiquette (or “phubbing”) affects the child of divorce


Mother on the phone while daughter sulking at home in the kitchen

There she sat at a fast-food restaurant, single mom alone with her daughter. The place was mostly empty. A worker was mopping the floor, and the little girl was fascinated with his chore. Her mom was glued to her cell phone. The little girl’s dinner sat at the table, untouched except for a few french fries she’d poke in her mouth as she ran back to the table every so often.

Maybe it’s because I’m cognizant of what kids of divorce go through and aware of how tough parenting alone can be, but I can pretty much pick out a single parent in a public arena. And this lady was a single mom.

I ordered my meal. Got my meal. Ate my meal. Smiled at the little girl and mostly watched her run all over the place while her mom rarely looked up from her phone. Her fingers moved rapidly across the keyboard in between her reading and laughing at the messages she was receiving. This mom was phubbing her precious little girl.

What is phubbing?

If you’ve been keeping up with all the current language, then you might be familiar with the word phubbing. Short for “phone snubbing,” phubbing is a word that has found its way into our language in the past couple of years.

Phubbing is when one person snubs another with the usage of his or her cell phone. While the word phubbing sounds funny to the ear, the art of phubbing is very serious to the littles being phubbed, especially the littles of divorce.

Studies have been done on how phubbing affects marriages and relationships. Even the Today show had a segment on phubbing not long ago. While I haven’t found any particular studies about how phubbing affects kids of divorce, I want to share my thoughts and observations on the topic.

How phubbing can affect the kids in single-parent homes

  • When a parent is distracted often and for long periods of time, it affects the relationship between the parent and child. Cell phones and other devices cause a parent to be distracted.
  • One study showed that looking at phones is harming our babies because the distraction can affect a baby’s brain development.
  • For children who get to visit their other parent only briefly, the attention to the cell phone interrupts their already too-brief interaction with the parent.
  • Phubbing with the significant other can cause jealousy when the child needs his or her needs met but the girlfriend is getting all of Dad’s attention.
  • Phubbing with the ex and muttering to oneself about the gall of the ex can negatively affect kids who overhear the tirades.
  • We teach our kids bad phone habits—teaching them to be dependent on their phones. For example, recently I was helping my eight-year-old grandson with his homework while his mom was at work. When I asked him to spell a certain word, he said, “Where’s your cell phone? I can just ask Siri how to spell that word.”

As children’s ministers and church leaders, we can impact single-parent homes in many ways. One such way is to help single parents understand what the attention to their devices is doing to the relationship between them and their children.

Suggestions to help single parents avoid phubbing

Pass on these suggestions to the single parents in your ministry:

  • Leave the phone in the car when you pick up your child from a child care or after-school care.
  • Put the phone in a basket the minute you walk in the door after work. Leave it there the first half hour you are home.
  • Make a rule that there are to be no phones or devices at the dinner table.
  • Take a break from your phone while helping with homework.
  • Have the kids put their phones away while doing homework.
  • Just because the ex texts doesn’t mean you have to take time away from the kids to respond at that exact moment. Just as conversations should happen out of earshot of the child, so should texting times happen away from the child.
  • If you are nursing mother, put that phone down while nursing. Infants and toddlers need the mother to be present and in the moment while feeding.
  • Focus on your child and give him your undivided attention by making eye contact and concentrating on him, even if for only brief periods of time.
  • Do not take the phone into the bedroom when putting the kids to bed.
  • Do not text your significant other in the presence of your children. This is particularly true if it is the beginning of a budding relationship. Wait until the children are in bed.       

In its annual State of the Kid report, Highlights Magazine said the biggest culprit in distracted parenting, according to 1,500 children, is the cell phone. The article “Highlights survey: Here’s the biggest culprit in distracted parenting (according to kids)” states, “Whether parents are making that work call that can’t wait, checking Facebook or dashing off an email, kids certainly notice when it feels like Mom and Dad are a million miles away.”

Now imagine a child who lives with only one parent. That child’s frustration must be more complicated than the child who has another parent to turn to when Mom or Dad is busy.

I don’t know if the word phubbing is going to be around for very long or not. What I do know is that most children from divorcing and single-parent homes already live in stress-filled homes. I also know that cell phones and other devices are not going to go away, nor should they. So let’s help these single parents be wise in their usage of their cell phones and other devices.

What else could you do to help the single parent keep from phubbing his or her child?


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