How to Handle Your Kids’ Phubbing (and Your Own!)

You may not have heard of phubbing, but you surely know what it is. In essence, it’s the act of ignoring someone or something in a social situation by looking at your smartphone instead.

Tweens and teens are particularly susceptible to a good phub. (That’s a combination of phone and snub, by the way.) Their phone’s games, apps, texts, and dings that scream “pay attention to me!” all add up to an irresistible distraction.

Hidden Harms

While phubbing may be understandable, it can have a negative effect on relationships. Friends and family may feel hurt knowing they’re being ignored in favor of a device. And too much smartphone use doesn’t help children form good relationships with others.  Having a phone always at the ready might even reduce their ability to empathize with others, research has found.

Not only is phubbing harmful to the person being ignored, but the phubber suffers, too, by missing out on noticing the world around them. Believe it or not, phubbing is associated with distress and depression. Excessive time on a phone could lead to trouble building trust. Beyond that, being disconnected from the present situation makes us unhappy in ways we might not even notice. Consider this fact: People actually rate their food as less tasty when phubbing over a meal.

Fight the Phub

Resisting this new phenomenon may feel like an uphill battle, but there’s a lot you can do as a parent. Here’s how to help your family refrain from phubbing:

  • Model good behavior. Phubbing certainly isn’t unique to young people, and you might even catch yourself scrolling through your phone while half-listening to your kids, spouse, or coworkers. Examine your own habits and limit your screen time when you’re with others.

  • Focus on manners. Some kids might not realize that when they ignore someone in favor of their phone, it sends a message that they don’t respect that person. Helping your children understand how their actions affect others is an important part of developing their thoughtfulness and consideration.

  • Set technology limits. Technology can be a great tool, but it doesn’t need to be used 24/7. Create boundaries for your family’s use of it, whether that’s a time (no tech in the evenings) or a place (no phones at the dinner table). It’s helpful for children to spend time being without their devices so that they don’t feel dependent on them.

  • Encourage face-to-face communication. Kids may love typing and texting, but speaking is important too. Encourage conversation with your children when they’re young, and keep it up as they get older. Their language skills will be all the better for it.


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