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How Parents’ Phubbing Contributes to Teenage Cell Phone Addiction

| What is phubbing | Consequences of phubbing by parents | Causes | How to stop phubbing your child |

The use of mobile phones has increased exponentially over the past decade and has become increasingly central to people’s everyday lives​1​.

A cell phone is one of the most frequently used devices to access the Internet due to its convenience and versatility in modern communication. 

It allows people to connect with friends, family, colleagues and absent others, to play games, for entertainment, and for education anywhere at any time.

Parents are increasingly worried about the adverse effects of smartphones on teenagers but they are unaware that their own phone use contributes to these concerns.

father phubbing son

What is phubbing?

Phubbing is the act of ignoring others in social situations by focusing on one’s mobile phone instead of interacting with others who are present. The term is derived from the words “phone” and “snubbing”.

Today, people use their smartphones to do many tasks that used to be confined to their desks, such as check flight schedules while dining, watch Netflix films from bed, and post on Facebook groups in the grocery line.

Mobile usage is now a ubiquitous part of American life. With mobile technology, people’s daily habits gradually change, and they remain virtually connected regardless of time or place. 

People are increasingly dependent on smartphones to the point where they engage with them even during face-to-face conversations with others. In interpersonal interactions, they have become a major distraction.

The use of smartphones allows parents to simultaneously manage their parenting, work, and social lives. This capability, although useful, may result in parents using the device more often around their children.

In a recent study, 35% of parents reported frequently using their smartphones while interacting or supervising their children​2​.

Around 75% of them checked their phones at least three times per day while supervising their children​3​.

Modern society has become accustomed to phubbing behavior, even embracing it as an accepted social norm.

Consequences of phubbing by parents

Encourages teenage phubbing

Adolescents who are phubbed by parents have the tendencies to engage in phubbing themselves. They consider phubbing an accepted social norm​4​.

Young people who show phubbing behavior tend to lack communication skills, have difficulty maintaining eye contact in social situations, miss information communicated through facial expressions and misunderstand what is being discussed​5​.

Relationship problems

Parents who engage in phubbing undermine their parent-child relationships. 

When caregivers are absorbed with mobile devices during meals, they are more likely to pay less careful attention to their children and respond harshly to their misbehavior​6​.

Partner phubbing is also associated with lower marital satisfaction and less satisfaction with life​7​.

Teenage cell phone addiction

Parental phubbing often occurs in family settings, when parents are distracted by their mobile phones in front of their children. 

This personal behavior in parents has been found in several studies to be a reliable predictor of children’s problematic smartphone behavior​8​ including teenage mobile phone addiction​9​.

Warmth, acceptance, and responsiveness of the parents can fulfill a child’s psychological needs​10​. Without this support, the child may instead turn to their phone for alternative emotional support, reinforcing the invisible addiction.

What causes phubbing in parents

Parents often don’t realize they’re phubbing or affecting their children. They are distracted by their cellphones at home for multiple reasons.

Struggle in work-life balance

With smartphones becoming more prevalent, users are expected to respond immediately to electronic communications​11​.

Many working parents are struggling to be available 24/7 for work. They feel the pressure to keep up with work emails during family time. 

Due to the fear of missing work-related content, they have their devices readily available at all times because having slow responses poses a risk of complaints from coworkers or managers.


Another reason for phubbing could be multitasking​12​.

Even before smartphones, busy parents often multitask. They can feed hungry kids, talk on the phone, and clean the kitchen all at the same time. 

Multitasking is even easier with a mobile phone. The parents can pay bills, order dinner, read the child’s report card, watch Netflix movies, and share Facebook updates while they are with the child.

Social norm

Phubbing has become a normative behavior for people in modern life, even becoming accepted as a social norm.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

A fear of being left out of the information circuit also contributes to the desire to stay connected to the phone. When parents aren’t on their smartphones as much as their friends, they may feel left out. 

The fear of missing out (FoMO), is “the fears, worries, and anxieties people may have in relation to being in (or out of) touch with the events, experiences, and conversations happening across their extended social circles”​13​.

FOMO can be debilitating. It triggers people’s insecurities and results in persistent mobile phone overuse​14​.

Instant gratification

The use of social media can enhance social interaction, provide escapism, entertainment, and maintain interpersonal relationships​15​.

Phubbing may fulfill an immediate need for gratification for some parents.

Emotion regulation

Those with a high level of negative emotionality are more likely to engage in phubbing behavior​16​.

According to a study, those high in negative emotions may find smartphone social interactions more insulated and controlled than face-to-face interactions​17​.

For example, when people are bored, they are more likely to phub. Engaging with their smartphones is an attempt to regulate these emotions​18​.

Low self-control

There is a close connection between impulsive behavior and addictive behavior​19​.

People with weak impulse control or strong compulsive behavior may have difficulty moderating their phone use​20​.

How to stop phubbing your child

The excessive use of cell phones undermines our wellbeing when they cross the line from being useful tools to detrimental ones.

Phubbing by parents increases teenagers’ chances for phone addiction, among other negative effects.

To curb phubbing, parents can follow these steps.

Leave notifications for only emergency

You can stay away from social media by turning off notifications. Activate the “do not disturb” status in your social network or the “sleep mode” on your phone to prevent notifications from popping up.

Schedule a time for emailing and checking in

Set aside a specific block of time each day to check and respond to emails, so that they don’t interrupt your quality time with your child. This will help you to be more present with your child and to create a better bond.

Make the dinner table a no-phone zone

Make it a rule that screens are not allowed at the dinner table. This includes smartphones, tablets, and TVs.

The importance of mealtimes and family life satisfaction cannot be overstated. Be present with your family. Connect and enjoy each others’ presence.

Positive parenting style

The use of smartphones induces a pleasure pathway response, resulting in quick and persistent activities that produce instant gratification​21​.

You can combat that by engaging in another activity that brings you pleasure.

Positive relationships, connections, and interactions are enjoyed by most people, including parents and children. 

By using a positive parenting style such as authoritative parenting, parents and kids are able to build a close relationship so that they enjoy being together interacting instead of playing with their phones.


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