Touchy Subject: Is it OK to be on the phone during your child's activities?

By ParentsCanada staff on June 14, 2017

NO by Kristi York

I can honestly say that I have never looked at my phone during my children’s activities. To be fair, that’s because I don’t own one. If I did, I’m sure I would be tempted to check it on the sidelines, and would give in to that temptation repeatedly. That’s exactly why I’m grateful to be smartphone-free.

I realize this is likely to be an unpopular viewpoint. I’m not judging those with smartphones, nor am I trying to portray myself as more devoted than any other parent. Obviously, there are work-related responsibilities and other urgent situations where phone use is necessary. Every parent has a right to make his or her own choices about how to manage the never-ending demands of work and family in our high-tech society.

I am, however, in a unique position to share first-hand the benefits of being a phoneless spectator. I like that I’m seeing every detail of what my kids are doing. Even if the overall outcome isn’t a success, I can praise them for the little things they did well, like running extra hard after a ball that got away from them. I can pick up on their subtle behaviour cues and observe how they interact with coaches and teammates. If they look over and smile at me, I won’t miss the chance to return the favour with an overzealous mom-wave. I’m glad I can show my kids with my actions, as well as my words, that I value their participation in something that is healthy and active. I’m glad that I have this time, in a world full of distractions, to be entirely present for them.

Mostly, I’m glad that when they come off the field, they never have to ask: “Mom, did you see me?” They know I did.

YES by Liz Hastings

After graduating from parent-and-tot and mommy-and-me and kanga-and-roo, I’m no longer required to hold my daughter’s hand during activities. Instead, I am sitting in the back row of the waiting room at my seven year-olds’ gymnastics lesson, visiting with other parents.

The front row spectators are practically levitating off their chairs, faces inches from the glass, kids falling from the bars because they are turned backwards, never losing eye contact with their number one fans. It occurs to me that our kids are performing for the benefit of the parents, not their own enjoyment – a completely counterproductive exercise.

I use these 90 minutes to catch up using the free Wi-Fi. I connect with friends, organize my week and even play the odd game of Scrabble. This is time to get things done while my child explores, swings, waits in lines, follows directions, fails and succeeds on her terms, under the guidance of someone other than me. It’s a step towards independence I’m thrilled to be a part of – from a distance.

Last year at Chloe’s first Hip-Hop dance session, I foolishly sat behind the window that separated the waiting area from the dancers. I noticed Moms trying to peek through the wrapping-paper-covered window, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of their tiny dancers. The front desk lady was our only lifeline to our children. She explained, “You will see them after the 10th week and you’ll be amazed at their progress. They will be so excited to show you what they’ve learned.”

Coaches/instructors/teachers are tired of overzealous, hyper-engaged parents becoming too involved in the courses they’ve designed that were meant to meet the needs and wants of our kids – not ours.

My daughter’s swim coach has asked parents to stop coming to watch practices. The distraction is too high and kids perform better when they are focused on their own goals, rather than on praise or fear of punishment from parents.

Use this hour for yourself. Get some work done. Play on your phone. How many of those minutes do you get in a day?

Expert Advice

Sarah Leckie, Director of Programs at Canlan Ice Sports Corp, weighs in:

Part of a child’s athletic development is the emotional engagement that parents provide them. How we interact and engage, positively or negatively affects a child’s love for the sport. Put down your phone for an hour and witness your child’s victories, big or small. Think honestly about how your engagement impacts your child’s feelings and motivation. They look to you for support and praise.

Sure, a distraction might be necessary if it helps an overzealous parent refrain from over-heating, getting angry or causing an embarrassing situation – a little phone break can help in some cases. But above all, show your kids that you’re excited to be there.

We asked our readers about their phone habits

  • Do you go on your phone or tablet at your kid’s activities? - 36% said YES
  • Is it appropriate to use your phone during practices and games? - 74% said NO
  • Do you feel judged by other parents when you’re on your phone? - 58% said YES


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Summer 2017.


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 2017