03/14/2013 04:47 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

Texting While Parenting: Can It Wait?

By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

Distracted parenting is a hot topic lately. Some experts are linking the rise in smartphone ownership with a spike in emergency room visits for kids under 5. As a parent of two kids and an avid iPhone user, I can attest to plenty of distracted parenting moments -- not something I'm terribly proud of.

Despite this, I think smartphones are great and can really enhance parenting to some degree. I've certainly appreciated being able to use the map app to figure out how to get to swim lessons. And texting to coordinate afterschool plans is so convenient. Plus, there are so many great apps for both parents and kids -- useful for skill building or entertainment when you're in a particularly slow line at the grocery store.

But if we parents are going to use smartphones, we do need to make a few rules for ourselves. One thing experts say is that our interpretation of how long we stare at our phones instead of at our kids and the world around us is grossly underestimated. It might feel like 20 seconds, but really three minutes have passed -- long enough for younger kids to get into trouble and for older kids to feel neglected.

I follow a few basic rules to both model good phone behavior and keep my kids safe:

  • No phone use during mealtimes.
  • No game playing (Words With Friends!) until after the kids are in bed.
  • If I need to use the phone in the car, pull over first.
  • Put away my phone if the kids are swimming unattended or doing anything else potentially dangerous.

Beyond the basics, things get a little tricky -- especially when you're around other parents whose rules differ. While I agree that people should avoid "texting while parenting," I think it's fine to pull out my phone if my kids are otherwise occupied and safe. For example:

  • Using my phone during gymnastics lessons or other supervised activities. (My kids don't need my eyes on their every move. I make sure to balance phone/book/chatting time with lots of smiles, nods and encouragement.)
  • Playground texting/email checking. (Playgrounds can be deathly boring, amiright? As long as my kids are old enough to play independently and I've got plenty of other kid time under my belt for the day, I see no problem with a little free play for all of us.)

Finally, I suggest reserving judgment when it comes to other parents' smartphone use. Most of the comments in articles about distracted parenting are vicious exercises in blame ("Stupid is as stupid does"). You can never know what's going on in someone else's life. We all make mistakes and sometimes get into bad habits. I like to assume that most parents are doing the best job they can. Bottom line: If you really think someone's kids are in danger when their parent is on the phone, either help those kids, or get the parent's attention.

What are your personal smartphone rules? (And please follow me on Twitter!)

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