When you’re on your phone, your child is craving your attention. Picture: NPR.org

Distracted by your phone too much to listen to your child? You could be guilty of technoference, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

We may be in the same room, but while texting or emailing, are we emotionally engaged with those around us?

Psychologists have now coined a phrase for it called technoference - phones getting in the way of being engaged with our children.

Katharine Hill is the UK director for Care For The Family, a charity that aims to promote strong family bonds. Recently, she wrote a column detailing her findings of the effects mobile use has on children. She referred to these kids as smartphone orphans, observing that it’s not children who need less screen time, it’s their parents.

“When it comes to child development, parents have fallen into a trap of worrying about their offspring’s screen time, but not their own,” she wrote.

She recalls that while at a teachers’ conference, they shared their dismay at the number of parents who barely look up from their smartphone as their son or daughter comes racing out of school, desperate to show them their art pieces.

Two separate studies on adolescent neglect published in the Child Abuse Review in 2015 found that all forms of neglect lead to some of the most profound negative, long-term effects on brain and other physical development, behaviour, educational achievement and emotional well-being.

Hill’s own experience echoes this: the more often parents reported “technoference”, the more behavioural issues they noted in their children.

Research has also shown that the brains of children who are emotionally neglected, develop differently.

Here’s an example: Children react to responsive behaviour. When we smile, they smile back, and this releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin. If you fail to look up from your phone and engage your child while having a conversation with them, their emotional requirements are not met.

Craig Wilkinson is a South African author and Dad Coach. Even he’s noticed an upsurge in the way adults relate to their smart devices.

“We are not as accessible and available as our children need us to be,” says the author of best-selling book DAD.

Inspirational speaker and Dad Coach Craig Wilkinson is passionate about equipping men to be great fathers and leaders. Picture: Supplied

“The message we are sending them is that ‘you are not as important as whoever or whatever I’m engaging with on my device’.”

He warns that children mimic our behaviour, thinking that if mom and dad are switched into the digital realm, then it’s okay for them to do the same.

Wilkinson refers to the warning signs, noting that parents are too distracted and not in the moment, and where family time is constantly interrupted by gadgets.

So how do you make the decision to consciously be more present?

“Know that as a parent you are the most important person in your child’s life, and they need you to be there, engaging with them emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually,” he adds.

And it all starts with something as simple as playing with them.

“Gone are the days when mom or dad would come home from work and switch off,” says parenting expert and author Meg Faure.

She believes our hectic lifestyles are leading us away from activities we do just for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. And when we do have the time, “we battle to do nothing because we seem to be obsessed with productivity”.

“Playing with your child is a vital part of parenting, The challenge is to find time and to suspend goal-directed behaviour and to ‘just be’,” she notes.

Many will know Meg Faure as co-author of baby series, Baby Sense and Toddler Sense. Picture: Supplied

Faure suggests taking 15 minutes; turn off your tech and just sit with your child. “You can have a few toys or dress up, and see what happens. It’s going to be fun!”

Wilkinson has a few recommendations when it comes to older children: “Get intentional about spending quality time with the family; ban devices from meal times and do things together where phones are not allowed.”

* Meg Faure and Craig Wilkinson are both keynote speakers at the Baby Show and #MeetUp at Kyalami International Convention Centre (September 28-30).