Is Your Phubbing Hurting Your Kids?

“Phubbing” is an invented word for a phenomenon we all know to be quite real: the act of snubbing someone by burying your face in a smartphone.

Psychologists have previously tied phubbing to worse mental health and less social connectedness. Now, a study adds evidence that phubbing can be bad for families too, with parents’ phubbing behaviors potentially having negative consequences for kids.

That conclusion is based on a survey of 1,721 teenagers, who were asked a series of questions about their own mental health as well as their parents’ phubbing tendencies.

The most direct finding from the survey was that children’s smartphone usage tended to mirror that of their parents. When children said their parents engaged in more phubbing, those children themselves had higher levels of problematic mobile phone use.

However, the implications of parental phubbing were more far-reaching than that. Parental phubbing was associated with worse parent-child relationships, suggesting that an unhealthy relationship with one’s phone can portend an unhealthy relationship with one’s child.

Then there’s the fact that children whose parents were serial phubbers had lower levels of self-esteem on average. Overall, the more parents phubbed, the worse off children were on several different measures of mental health.

The most obvious way that might play out is if parents are snubbing their own children in favor of smartphones. But there are other factors that might be involved, such as if phubbing signifies broader mental health issues parents are facing, or if parents turn to their smartphones because of family problems.

On the whole, these results are a good reminder that while our smartphones can do a lot of cool things for us, one thing they can’t do is maintain our relationships with the people we love. So by all means, check your Twitter feed, but if you want a tip on something simple you can try to become more present with your family, consider leaving your smartphone in your pocket!