Sage Advice: Grandparents Worry About Ignored Toddlers

By Amy Dickinson | March 26th, 2019

How smartphones contribute to bad parenting


Young parents ignore their kid and looking at their mobile phones Image

Dear Amy: As grandparents, my husband and I are so sad to witness the amount of time our children spend texting with their toddlers in the room.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ll hear, “Mommy (or Daddy) look what I made!”

The answer: “Uh-huh. That’s nice!” without even one glance up to see the tower of blocks or the look on their child’s face as it turns from beaming pride to expressionless.

Or the grandkids will say, “Mommy/Daddy, come color with me!” And the response: “OK, just a minute,” turns into many minutes and another disappointed child.

We do all we can to compensate while we are visiting and they love the attention, but we’re not there every day, and we’re not their parents.

Before the children were born they said they would have a family rule of no phones for two hours in the evening, but they literally never put them down.

If we dare to say anything, they become defensive.

Please, tell young parents their children are watching!

Parents need to choose their children over their phones. There’s plenty of time to text after they go to bed.

– Concerned Grandparents

Dear Grandparents: Although I overall agree with you, I find it necessary to point out that parents have found ways to ignore their toddlers ever since there was such a thing as toddlers.

(My mother basically read her way through most of her children’s sporting events. What did I learn from this? That she preferred “Anna Karenina” to basketball. I found a way to cope.)

Parents are in it for the long haul. Not every utterance and incidence in a toddler’s world needs to be met with a hearty “Good job!”

However, I completely agree with you that the ubiquity of our smartphones has taken this sort of divided attention to a whole new level. (And is it possible that these parents are less engaged with their kids when you are with them – because you are there to pile on the attention?)

Yes, without question, it is necessary to find ways to pay undivided attention to young children, each and every day. This means watching and celebrating as they build block towers, playing endless rounds of Candy Land and reading together.

The children raised by these ever-texting parents will very quickly become the adolescents who prefer their own phones to interacting with adults.

I have family members (young parents) who gave up their smartphones altogether. One consequence is that their children seem to be more imaginative, better behaved and just more fun to be around.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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