Cell Phone-Addicted Parents and Children Who Feel Ignored

Parents, it's time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect with what matters most: your children. Because children need your attention and validation if they're to grow up to be happy and confident. So don't let technology be an obstacle.
Cell Phone-Addicted Parents and Children Who Feel Ignored
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

“Dad, look at what I’ve drawn”, “Mom, why do the clouds change color in the afternoon?”. Children demand your attention 24/7. In fact, few realities are more natural than a child waiting for the validation of their parents. However, we’re seeing increasing amounts of cell phone-addicted mothers and fathers who, almost without realizing it, are neglecting the needs of their children.

Parent-child attention nourishes as much as food. It also nurtures affection and confers essential security for children’s development. Knowing how to be present requires knowing when to disconnect from technology to connect with our children. Sadly, it’s a fact that we’re increasingly neglecting and consequently experiencing the serious consequences that derive from it.

As a matter of fact, we’ve normalized the use of our devices in such a way that we’re unaware of the extent to which they’re affecting our quality of life. Having one or ten cell phones isn’t a problem. Neither is having two computers and teleworking. The conflict lies in not knowing when to put aside the screen and return to what matters most: the here and now with those who we’re closest to.

Children imitate us. If we don’t pay attention to them, if they see us at all hours on our cell phones and computers, tomorrow, they’ll also prioritize technology over connecting with us.

Boy with a tablet and father with a computer symbolizing Mobile Addicted Parents
Many mothers and fathers admit that they have a hard time completely disconnecting from technology.

Emotionally neglected children and parental phubbing

Parental phubbing defines the behavior in which parents ignore their children while they use their cell phones. We’re all probably quite used to this kind of behavior with our friends, but when it happens within a family, it becomes quite a serious problem.

Drexel University (USA) conducted research that revealed almost 70 percent of parents admit that they’re distracted by their cell phones when they’re with their children. What’s more, they stress that it’s hard for them not to look at the screen when they receive a notification or to put the device away.

We could say that electronic devices are hijackers of attention that are difficult for us to control. However, how much attention do they steal from us? A lot, a little, too much, maybe? If we really want to know, we should ask those in our environment, especially our children. Because they’re the real victims of this reality that’s fast getting out of hand.

Children who don’t receive attention develop feelings of worthlessness. They don’t feel valuable or valid, which puts them at risk of suffering from mood disorders.

Emotionally abandoned children

Let’s think for a moment what it feels like to be ignored by someone we love. Now, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a four-year-old child who feels ignored by their parents. Because one of the consequences of cell phone-addicted parents is that they’re not aware of the ‘pain’ they cause their children.

We say pain for a simple fact. The feeling of being ignored is processed by the brain in the same way as physical suffering. To this, we must add how the child’s mind processes and interprets the situation. They assume that their father or mother doesn’t love them and that everything they do or say either isn’t appropriate or is of no value to them.

The little one who feels emotionally abandoned develops feelings of worthlessness. They don’t consider themselves to be important or valid because their parents don’t reinforce their words, questions, and actions. Moreover, they can display disruptive or negative behaviors just to desperately try and attract the attention of their parents.

When a child doesn’t receive the attention they need from their parents, they exhibit increasingly anxious behaviors. These behaviors can also be transferred to the school, where they become increasingly withdrawn or, on the contrary, defiant.

Cell-phone-addicted parents and children with depression

Northeast Normal University (China) conducted research that claimed parental phubbing is associated with an increased risk of depression in children and adolescents. This feeling of emotional abandonment leads to them feeling worthless and negatively perceiving themselves.

Upon reaching adolescence, they might exhibit anxiety leading to suicidal behavior. Furthermore, there’s a possibility of a greater tendency toward risk behaviors such as drug use.

One further important aspect is that the child who grows up with parents addicted to cell phones also ends up becoming addicted to technology. Not to mention the poor bond they create with their parents.

child on the computer looking for information about mobile addicted parents
Parents need to be aware of what kind of role model they’re projecting onto their children.

What can cell phone-addicted parents do?

Something that cell phone-addicted parents should be aware of is their own behavior. An addict doesn’t always admit their dependence on a substance or behavior and in this case, almost the same thing happens. It happens because we’ve normalized the use of our devices to an extent that we no longer know how to set limits.

We know that they’re valuable tools for work and communication. However, sometimes we turn to them to relieve stress and even to escape from reality. We’re captives of our notifications, slaves to never-ending scrolling and the fear of missing something. In fact, what we’re really missing is raising our children.

Therefore, put your cell phone away when you’re with your children. Install an app that tells you how much time you spend in front of your screen. This will make you realize how much of your life you’re losing on it. If you feel you need help, ask a professional but never stop answering your children’s questions, looking at them when they speak to you, and telling you how much you love them and how valuable they are.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Solecki, Susan. The Phubbing Phenomenon: The Impact on Parent-Child Relationships. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 2021;62:211-214. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2021.09.027
  • Xie, X, Xie J. Parental Phubbing Accelerates Depression in Late Childhood and Adolescence: A Two-Path Model. Journal of Adolescence. 2019;78:43-52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.12.004
  • Li, Pamela. Childhood Emotional Neglect – 37 Signs, Effects, and How to Overcome. Parenting for Brain. Updated Jun 18, 2022.
  • Stothart, C, Mitchum, A, Yehnert, C. The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 2015;41(4):893-897. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000100

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.