Parental Phubbing and Self-Esteem

No one likes being ignored, but it can be especially hurtful to children when parents are stuck on their phones.

Parental phubbing is considered the extent that parents make use of or are distracted by their cell phone when they engage with their children (Wang et al., 2020, p. 427). There has been an increasing desire to understand the harmful effects of parental phubbing on adolescent development. In their study, Wang et al. (2020) examined the relationship among parental phubbing and youths’ depressive symptoms and looked to identify whether self-esteem and perceived social support together moderated this relationship. Youth depression is an increasing public health issue around the world. Its prevalence rate is roughly 2.8% among youths under the age of 13, and this increases with age. More significantly, depressive symptoms in adolescence greatly estimate an episode of major depression in adulthood, and about half of the health-improved adolescents will have a recurrence in the next five years.

Therefore, there is a clear and pressing need to examine those factors that can contribute to a boost in adolescents’ depression. Certainly, substantial empirical studies have verified that adverse family circumstances play a role in the start and upkeep of youth depression. For example, greater levels of parental rejection may significantly predict a rise in adolescents’ depression (Wang et al., 2020). Additionally, Ante-Contreras (2016) discovered that 75% of the 167 American parents were on their device at minimum three times a day during direct supervision of their children (as cited in p. 428). If adolescents are feeling ignored or rejected due to parental phubbing, then their perceptions are especially important when examining adolescent outcomes for depression (Wang et al., 2020, p. 423).

The impact of parental phubbing on adolescents’ depressive symptoms may be understood through family systems theory. This theory proposes that persons cannot be understood in seclusion from one another but rather as a part of their family, as the family is considered an emotional unit. Said simply, the family is an interdependent dynamic system wherein family members’ experiences are interrelated and may mutually affect each other. Consistent with the family systems theory, parental phubbing may affect adolescents’ feelings because it may send a “very clear message” to adolescents that their parents believe smartphones are more valuable than their children. When parents time and again allow their smartphone to impede in interactions with their adolescent kids, then those kids will have greater feelings of being overlooked or even rejected. As a result, their feeling of support and love from their parents will be reduced.

Adolescence is a critical stage when young people undergo several changes and challenges. Specifically, adolescents become self-conscious and display a greater concern about other people’s opinions of them. Adolescents’ perceptions of others’ rejection, such as rejection from parents, are expected to play a role in their negative feelings about themselves, which is recognized to contribute to vulnerability to depression. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that parental phubbing may be positively linked with adolescents’ depressive symptoms, and this is consistent with family systems theory (Wang et al., 2020).

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Wang, X., Gao, L., Yang, J., Zhao, F., & Wang, P. (2020). Parental phubbing and adolescents' depressive symptoms: Self-esteem and perceived social support as moderators. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 49(2), 427–437.