Your Smartphone Or Your Life

On a crisp Saturday morning at a Denver farmers' market, the smell of roasted chilies hangs in the air. A wiggly 10-year-old girl waits in line at the burrito vendor's cart, arm linked with her dad's. All skinny jeans, sweatshirt, and braces, she sways to the nearby music of a guitar and mandolin duo.

Food in hand, daughter and dad sit across from each other at a small café table. She looks adoringly at him as she's about to take her first bite. In that golden moment, dad slips his phone out of his pocket, entering the world of your smartphone life – a choice of your smartphone or your life with his daughter.

Child Trying To Get Parents Attention

Choosing Your Smartphone or Your Life? Children See…

Her eyes pivot instantly to that thing, that mortal enemy that will once again rob her of her dad. Engrossed in his phone, he does not notice as his daughter draws back from the table, her eyes glaze over, and she looks distractedly at the moving crowd, accepting her not-unfamiliar plight: At any moment, her dad may abandon her for his phone, exiting this intimate father-daughter space and going elsewhere into your smartphone life. At Montessori we believe in encouraging parents to be aware of the negative effects cell phones can have on our children and the harsh reality of your smartphone or your life with them.

Your Smartphone or your life? Child is tired of phones

This true story is one of many: Anecdotally, parents use mobile devices in front of their children all the time while living their smartphone life, making a choice of your smartphone or your life with their children. Children have become used to their precious parent time being interrupted, without apology or permission, by their parents' exiting at will to attend to their electronic life and enter the world of your smartphone life. The device's ubiquitous presence at the dinner table, on the nature walk, and during drive time and downtime signals to sons and daughters that they must compete with these inanimate objects for their parents' attention or simply resign themselves to the shared attention. Some children act out, thinking negative attention is better than no attention. Others adapt and imitate their parents' behavior, begging for a mobile device of their own. New research from Common Sense Media found that “almost twice as many children have used mobile media compared to two years ago and the average time children spent using mobile devices has tripled” (2013, p. 9).

Distracted parents model that it is acceptable not to be present when you spend time with your loved ones, making your smartphone or your life with family the implicit choice. Children quickly learn that attending to a mobile device is an approved value.

Implications Of Choosing Your Smartphone Or Your Life

The implications of this parental behavior and family dynamic are far-reaching. By being disconnected and distracted, making the choice of your smartphone or your life with family, parents miss out on precious moments of connection, teaching, and quality time with their children. The emotional needs of kids can go largely unmet as their parents are mentally and physically checked out. This can breed resentment, acting out behaviors, attachment issues, and a lack of perceived priority in the child's mind.

Furthermore, parents inadvertently teach their children that it's okay to be rude, ignore those around you, and prioritize technology over real human interaction. Kids see this behavior modeled constantly and can adopt similar habits with devices, games, and social media becoming their own obsessions. The family unit can fray as individual members are absorbed in their own digital worlds rather than engaged with each other.

Meaningful conversations diminish, empathy skills stunted, and children receive the damaging message that fulfilling virtual responsibilities takes precedence over cherishing actual reality. As they miss out on these formative parental lessons in courtesy, respect and work-life balance, an unhealthy cycle can perpetuate into their own adult relationships down the road.

Choosing Your Child Over Cell Phone - Parenting Montessori Style

Clearly, being consumed by our smartphone lives comes at a cost – one families can ill afford. While technology connects the world wonderfully, it must be kept in its proper perspective. Children should be the priority, not an afterthought awaiting their turn as parents tend to fake online demands first. With conscious discipline and limits, mobile devices can still be incorporated into life while guarding against their ability to fracture the family. The choice lies with parents to be present, attentive and purposeful about nurturing real-time bonds of your smartphone or your life with loved ones. This is how true connection flourishes.

How Our children need Our full attention!

  • Keep your Smartphone life out of sight when you’re with your children. Better yet, turn it off and put it in an- other room. If you do need to use it, excuse yourself and take the call elsewhere. Make it short, come back quickly, and apologize for the interruption—because that’s what it is, an interruption of your in-the-moment life with your child. The same goes for checking or sending voice mail, email, or text messages.
  • If you’re going to look something up on your device when with your children, ask their permission before doing so. This is a good habit of your smartphone life to get into whenever you are with another person.
  • Vow to break the habit of fooling yourself that your smartphone life with your children is not a distraction. It is. And it cuts deep.
Parents ignoring child while on cell phones

But how do children really feel about their parents’ use of mobile devices in their presence?

In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle recounts one boy’s lament that he could understand it better when his dad worked at his desk computer than when he sat next to him with his mobile device in hand, physically there but not fully present.

Says Turkle, “Children have always competed for their parents’ attention . . . with parents being off with work, friends, or each other. Today, children contend with parents who are physically close, tantalizingly so, but mentally else- where.” (2011, p. 267).


Common Sense Media. (2013). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America. www.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

  1. DONOHUE SHORTRIDGE, MA, is a frequent Montessori conference speaker and consultant to Montessori schools, presenting staff development sessions and parent night talks. She is AMS-credentialed (Infant & Toddler, Early Childhood). Visit her website at www.pdonohue
  2.  Teachers and administrators, please feel free to copy this page and distribute it to parents. It is also available online at > Family Resources > Support Materials.
  4. American Montessori Society