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How Parents’ Phubbing Contributes to Teenage Cell Phone Addiction

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 negative impact of smartphones on teenagers but they are unaware that their own phone usage contributes to these concerns.

father phubbing son

What is phubbing?

Phubbing is the act of ignoring others in a social situation 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” – phone snubbing.

Mobile usage is now a ubiquitous part of American life.

People use their smartphones to do many tasks that used to be confined to their desks, such as checking flight schedules while dining, watching Netflix films from bed, and posting on Facebook groups while waiting in the grocery line.

Daily habits gradually change, and people remain virtually connected regardless of time or place. 

We are increasingly dependent on smartphones to the point where we engage with them even during a face-to-face conversation or in the presence of others.

Smartphone use has become a major distraction.

With smartphones, parents can 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 with or supervising their children​2​.

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

Negative consequences of phubbing by parents

Encourages teenage phubbing

Adolescents who are phubbed by parents have the tendency to phub others. They consider the phubbing habit an accepted social norm​4​.

Young people who show phubbing behavior tend to lack communication and social skills.

They have difficulty maintaining eye contact in social situations, miss information communicated through facial expressions, and misunderstand what is being discussed​5​.

Teenage cell phone addiction

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

In a set of studies, such behavior is found to be among the most important 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 fundamental needs​10​. Without the parents’ emotional support, children turn to their phones for alternative support, reinforcing the invisible addiction.

Relationship problems

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

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

A chronic phubber not only phubs their children but also other family members including their significant others.

Partner phubbing reduces the sense of connection and affects romantic relationships. It is associated with lower marital satisfaction​7​.

What causes phubbing in parents

Parents often don’t realize they’re phubbing their children. They are distracted by their cell phones for multiple reasons.

Struggle in work-life balance

With smartphones becoming more prevalent, people 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 slow responses pose 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. 

With a mobile phone, multitasking is even easier.

Parents can pay bills, order dinner, read the child’s report card, watch movies on Netflix, and share Facebook updates while they are with the child.

With so many tasks to handle, parents are prone to phubbing.

Social norm

Phubbing has become a normal part of life in modern society. Many people aren’t even aware they do it.

It is a rude habit but it’s becoming more and more common and acceptable even in a social setting.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Fear of being left out of the information circuit contributes to the desire to stay connected to the phone.

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 about being left out and results in persistent mobile phone overuse​14​.

Instant gratification

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

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

Emotion regulation

A study shows that those high in negative emotions may find smartphone social interactions more insulated and controlled than face-to-face interactions​17​.

Therefore, they are more likely to engage in phubbing behavior​16​.

Engaging with their smartphones is an easy way to avoid or regulate these negative emotions​18​.

A lack of 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 well-being when they cross the line from being useful tools to detrimental ones.

Phubbing by parents increases teenagers’ chances of 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 the text message or respond to emails, so that your quality time with your child will not be interrupted.

This will help you to be more present with your child and to strengthen your in-person relationships.

Create phone-free zones

Make it a rule that screens are not allowed in certain areas of the house such as 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 and interacting instead of playing with their phones.




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