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Want to be a Better Parent? Hang Up the Phone

August 5, AD 2013 28 Comments

Hang Up Phone

About once a week, my wife and I take our kids to a local indoor playground. The scene is pretty consistent: dozens of kids running around, screaming chaotically, in a place indistinguishable from an orangutan exhibit during the apocalypse.

But something else strikes me each time we go. After setting our kids loose, I glance around at the other parents and almost to a person, each one sits in the same position. They lean forward with their head bent down, eyes glued to a small screen, fingers tapping quickly as if they were playing a miniature piano.

Despite the fact that the most wondrous creatures in the world are zig-zagging and tumbling mere feet away, their attention is locked onto their iPhones. In fact, one day I was sitting next to a mom who was playing Space Invaders on her phone for half an hour. Her son came up to her several times, tugging on her forearm and begging for her to watch what can only be described as a mix between Irish dancing and karate, but she waved him off again and again.

Because she was too busy. Too busy with Space Invaders.

Now I’ll admit that I’ve done the same thing many times. I’ve ignored my kids in favor of cell phones and computers. In fact, I remember one day I was so absorbed in writing an email, that I didn’t even notice my son who kept pulling on my forearm, begging me to play. Whether we’re talking about television, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or text messaging, I’ve chosen all of it over my kids at some point.

However in the past few months, I’ve tried to turn things around. I’ve learned an important key to being a good parent in today’s world:

Hang up!

This short but difficult command can be the hinge of quality parenthood. For example, picture yourself pulling in your driveway after a long day at work. There are two ways you to enter your house. One way is to open the door mired in a phone call, casually waving off the kids as they run to you. Another, however, is to walk in, fully present, ready to play and laugh and listen. If you choose the first way, you signal to your kids that a phone call is more important than them. If you choose the second way, you show, even without speaking, that nobody else matter more.

Now hanging up can be difficult. Sometimes there are calls you just have to take or emails that must be sent right away. But if you need a couple more minutes to finish a call, you might consider parking somewhere else for a few minutes to wrap it up. Sure, you may get home a couple of minutes later than planned, but you’ll be present to your kids from the moment you arrive.

Another way I make sure I’m off the phone is to not accept any phone calls on the drive home. If you pick up a call, you’ll likely continue it. On those rare occasions when I do answer, though, I politely wrap it up as I enter the neighborhood, saying, “Well, I’m just pulling up to the house and the kids are waiting outside…” If you’re talking to a family member or friend, they’ll get the hint.

No child ever says to his or her dad, “You spend way too much time with me! Why don’t you take a couple hours to fiddle with your iPhone or pop off some emails?” But many children grow up wishing their dad or mom had paid more attention to them.

So when you’re talking with your kids, turn off your phone. When it’s time for dinner, put your devices away. If you’re at the park, the playground, a restaurant, or church, choose to unplug.

Pocketing your phone and closing your computer are simple things to do, but they’re some of the most powerful ways to show your kids how much you truly care for them.
Originally posted at

Filed in: Married Life • Tags: ,

About the Author:

Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at He’s also the author of The Church and Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet and the top hit on Google for “greatest evil in the world”.

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  • Anon

    This doesn’t just apply to parenting little kids! It drives me crazy when my mom and I are going somewhere together and as soon as we’re in the car she starts making phone calls. So much for quality time.

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  • Ms_Scotty

    Thank you for writing this article. When I am out shopping, it breaks my heart to see little children sitting patiently in grocery carts waiting for conversation that never comes because their parents are too busy on their cell phones. One day those parents will want to talk to their children, and the children won’t have time for them. It just makes me sad.

  • MM

    I agree generally but I think it differs a little with mom and with dad. If dad works and is away from the kids most of the time, then when he is with his kids he owes it to them to be fully present. But a stay at home mom who is with her kids all day every day is allowed to have a little outside adult contact by getting on the phone if the kids are happily occupied. I homeschool so I rarely have time when the kids are apart from me. I often go a week without speaking to another adult in person and the loneliness can be crushing. And my kids need to learn boundaries and it’s not all about them all the time. Kids naturally think they are the center of the universe but they also have to learn other people have needs. So if I take my kids to the park, sometimes I will watch them the whole time and sometimes I will call a friend or relative since I rarely get the chance otherwise. And I do allot myself a little computer time every day like right now and the kids have to entertain themselves which is a good skill. If I didn’t I would either lose my mind or I would have to quite homeschooling and get an outside job so i could have contact with other adults.

    • enness

      I agree with that. I was going to point out that it’s easy to think that every move someone else’s kids make is delightful, we’re not there with them 24/7.

      • Micha_Elyi

        Nope, the phone is a near occasion of sin. Heed Ms. Scotty’s observation. If you’re one of those mommies who’s slapped away her toddler while on the phone, get rid of the temptation to do it again. And if you haven’t done that yet, when you do then admit you’re powerless against the temptation and get rid of the thing.

      • b.f.

        MS.Scotty is sinning by not giving the benrfit of the doubt. Suppose mommy is talking to daddy on phone working on important family details. She needs to mind her business and stop can’t Assume phone conversation is not important. Or suppose mommy is calling doctor to make appointments for kids..

    • b.f.

      I agree..thanks. .I will homeschool next year when my older one turns 4.. I stay at home and have no adult interaction. Yes crushing. When my kids are playing I jump on Facebook.

  • ManeeVee

    “About once a week, my wife and I take our kids to a local indoor playground.
    The scene is pretty consistent: dozens of kids running around, screaming
    chaotically, in a place indistinguishable from an orangutan exhibit
    during the apocalypse.” Sounds like our parish church on Sunday morning, sans the cell phones. Same behavior by parents; ignoring their kids while everyone else just fumes.

  • TabithaRaised

    Even back in the sixties when phones were still connected to the wall, my mom spent tons of time talking to friends on the phone rather than spending time with us, her children.

  • Mike

    Your article is well-meaning but completely fails to address the real problem. If texting, FB, Twitter, etc… is more important than supervising your kids, then we are talking about an addiction. To ignore this reality will only make the problem worse. Telling these people to simply “hang up” is like telling the alcoholic to “stop drinking.”

    • MM

      Not everyone you see on the phone while supervising their kids is addicted. You can no more tell if that parent you see on the phone has an addiction then you can tell if someone you see with a drink in a bar has an addiction. I allow myself to sometimes be on the phone when my kids are around. Someone who sees me on the phone may assume that I am always or often on the phone when I am with my kids but they don’t the umpteen number of hours I just spent one on one with my kids. I think we need to stop judging other parents and mind our own business. I’ve said this over and over on this website because so many articles are like this: “How awful that I saw parents doing such and such” when they nothing about those parents or their circumstances. So I say it again, let’s just worry about own own parenting and not someone else’s.

      • Mike

        Not everyone you see on the phone is addicted. But many of them are. A 2010 Nokia study found that smartphone users check their devices 150x per day. If your awake 16 hours, that translates to once every six minutes. That isn’t an addiction? Tell me why you see so many teens permanently attached to their devices. Maybe it’s because mom and dad set the example. And as for judging other parents, I think it’s long past due we start holding other parents to a higher standard. When’s the last time you heard a young person say “thank you”? Or how about the young person working at the counter with the punch-holed ear lobes? BTW, I am a home-school parent of a 16 year old girl without a mobile device. Even she can see how depersonalized and tech-addled those of her age group have become. It starts with the parents.

      • MM

        So you are the phone police and want to hold other parents accountable. So do you go up to parents on phones and tell them how wrong they are? If you did that to me I would slug you with my purse. By the way I am the parent of teens and younger and none have phones. Neverthess I reserve the right to use my phone when I see fit without worrying about other parents judging me or “holding me accountable.”

      • Mike

        Parents should hold themselves accountable, but they can’t or won’t if they don’t know the facts or are in denial. I cite research and ask questions to hopefully get a few people to think. Honest self-assessment is scary to most people, so I get a lot of vitriolic responses. Phone away, MM, it’s been fun.

      • MM

        If parents are to hold accountable why do YOU feel the need to tell them what to do and judge everyone you see on the phone as addicted?

      • Mike

        I don’t tell anyone what to do. I simply use forums like this to point out that tech addiction is a real, and growing problem.

      • MM

        Mike, I don’t dispute that there are many people addicted to phones and that it’s a growing problem. But there is an assumption from the you and the author of this article that when you see a parent on the phone you know that they are doing something wrong. Maybe they are and maybe they are not but it’s no one else’s business, is it? Just like it’s not my business to judge a parent I see bottle-feeding instead of breast-feeding or spanking her child in public, or deciding if she is dressed modestly enough, or whether she sends her children to a public school instead of homeschooling, or a billion other things we might see a parent do that we don’t do ourselves. The irony of this discussion is I spend relatively little time on the phone, about 15 minutes a month on average (and I don’t have a smartphone), but it’s the idea of other parents watching my every move and judging me that I find insulting.

      • enness

        You suggest that MM is not honest, and cannot assess herself. A complete stranger in a combox. These “vitriolic” comments couldn’t possibly be because you imagine you possess information about strangers that you don’t actually have, could they?

      • Micha_Elyi

        Denial is not a river in Egypt.

      • enness

        I was once harshly accosted by a stranger for using my phone — it’s a long story, but I was far from home and it was the only area where I had reception. This person was buying a pack of cigarettes. Maybe I should have told her to quit smoking!

      • Micha_Elyi

        Yes, I do. And I stare at ’em too.

        I think of it as answering a call to strengthen the sisteren.

      • enness

        Having pierced ears is a bizarre thing to pick on. If I had no issue with her actual customer service skills, I think I’d let that one pass…

      • Micha_Elyi

        Checking the phone every 6 minutes? Wow. Cigarettes last 7 minutes between light-ups – and that’s if the tobacco addict is sucking it down hard!

  • slong1

    Not all use of email is “fiddling”. Surely the author can distinguish between playing “space invaders” and holding a job that is not merely a 9-5 job? Nonetheless, a very good point regarding the need not to extend time away from family unnecessarily and to enjoy & play with children!

    • Micha_Elyi

      Mother to child: “I’m on the phone with a client.”
      Child: “Mommy, can I be a client too?”
      –AT&T commercial

  • Micha_Elyi

    Hang up the phone. Yes! Even better, if one does not need it for employment reasons – get rid of the mobile phone!

    And go cold turkey on quitting TV too. The horrible box is a near occasion of sin for parents, the temptation to impose it on children as a substitute parent or mechanical babysitter is always there as long as that monster is in the home.