What is phubbing and why is it bad for relationships?

Picture this: you’re in the middle of a conversation with your teenager. Whether you’re asking about their day or discussing this list of the top five virtual museum tours, it’s a fascinating conversation! You’re both engaged and you’re feeling good about the developing connection.

Then you hear a bing, and that dreaded moment happens: your teen pulls out their phone. Immediately the quality of your conversation decreases, and what was once a fantastic dialogue has devolved into a series of grunts and the occasional “yeah.” They are more interested in whatever text they received than your ongoing conversation. Whether you know it or not, you’ve just been phubbed.

What is phubbing?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines phubbing as “the act of ignoring someone you are with and giving attention to your mobile phone instead.”

Basically, whenever you’re scrolling through Instagram instead of listening to another person, you’re guilty of phubbing. If your child is prioritizing Snapchat when they’re playing with their younger siblings, they’re phubbing! What about surfing through AllRecipes to plan tonight’s dinner while your spouse tells you about their day? You guessed it: you just phubbed.

Why is phubbing bad?

So what’s the deal with phubbing, and why is phubbing toxic for your relationships?

Think about it: when you’re distracted by your phone, your ability to listen and focus decreases exponentially. I don’t know about you, but as soon as the light of my cell phone reaches my eyes, my ears switch off completely. Information and conversation go in one side and out the other without coming anywhere near my brain! Once I put my phone away and return to the conversation, I’m completely lost.

Listening to others and actively participating in conversation is key to building common connections and developing trust—important aspects of relationships that phubbing makes nearly impossible.

Phubbing is also a pretty big sign of disrespect. When someone is trying to connect with you and you don’t pay them any attention, they may feel unwanted and unappreciated. 

Phubbing doesn’t only show disrespect in conversation though. If you’re on your phone during class or while watching a performance, it signifies to the presenter that you’re not interested in what’s going on. It also signals to others around you that the lesson or production isn’t worth paying attention to, and they may pull out their phone as well. This could lead to a phubbing-domino effect!

So is being on your phone disrespectful?

This question all depends on context. If you’re not actively interacting with someone, then there’s nothing wrong with being on your phone! After all, doing research or keeping up with friends on your device is a great way to pass your spare time. Just make sure you’re not on your phone too much, as cell phone addiction is no joke.

On the other hand, is it rude to look at your phone while someone is talking to you? Objectively, yes. Next time you feel like pulling out your phone during a conversation, place yourself in the other person’s shoes and refrain! We all appreciate when our voice is heard.

How can I help my kid avoid phubbing?

Phubbing is more common than we’d like to think. In fact, one study done by researchers at the University of Kent found that over 30 percent of people get phubbed at least three times a day!

As such, your child is likely going to phub at some point. You can help diminish this possibility by helping your child understand what phubbing is and how negative it can be. After all, education is the first step to prevention! Remind your kids to pay attention to the real world before they pay attention to their phone. 

Modelling is one of the best ways to educate kids, so I recommend showing them how to actively listen without their phone. This means making eye contact, asking questions, and avoiding distractions. 

There is another option: switch to Troomi! Troomi’s kid-friendly smart devices eliminate social media and addictive games, two common causes of phubbing. Removing social media also encourages kids and teens to develop meaningful, real life relationships with those around them, free from the cage of technology. Check out our mission statement to learn more!
At Troomi we are dedicated to helping you help your child be the best they can be, so don’t forget to keep an eye on the Troomi blog for more info and parenting tips!