Highlights survey: Here's the biggest culprit in distracted parenting (according to kids)

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By Lisa Flam

The ubiquitous cellphone is the biggest culprit in distracted parenting, according to a Highlights magazine survey of 1,500 children.

Whether parents are making that work call that can’t wait, checking Facebook or dashing off an email, kids certainly notice when it feels like Mom and Dad are a million miles away.

"One little guy told me, 'It feels like Mommy likes her cellphone better than me,'" said TODAY parenting expert Michele Borba, author of "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions."

In the Highlights annual "State of the Kid" survey released Wednesday on TODAY and Highlights.com, 62 percent of children ages 6 to 12 answered “yes” when asked if their parents are ever distracted or focused on other things when their children are trying to talk to them.

The cellphone was cited most often as the distraction, followed by those bothersome siblings. Other reasons children gave for their parents not paying attention to them were work, TV, talking to other people, computers, cooking, housework, and driving.

Highlights asked children what would happen if their parents lost their cellphones for a day.

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“I think my mom would go crazy and have a heart attack,” an 8-year-old girl responded. “And then faint.”

Just over 11 percent said their parents would “go crazy,” close to 10 percent said their parents would “be mad” and 11 percent said their parents would do nothing (really?).

Borba says parents need to put the pause button on and realize that "kids are concerned about wanting us to be in their lives." She says we are finding that too much technology means all  “the wonderful stuff -- the humanness goes out.. learning conversation skills, empathy, social skills."

Even though more than half of kids found their parents to be distracted, they also know the best time to talk to them about something important. Thirty-three percent of kids said the best time was during a meal, followed by 29 percent who said it was bedtime.

Eighteen percent said the best time was in the car (a good time for a private chat), while a carefree 7 percent were fine with “anytime.”

The magazine examined children’s feeling about school. Even with the increased emphasis on testing and accountability in recent years, 56 percent of kids said they were happy or excited to go to school in the morning.

Read more about the survey at Highlights.com

Kids found plenty at school to make them feel good about themselves. One-quarter of the kids cited good grades as a source of pride, followed by math class (14 percent) and gym (12 percent).

Forty-eight percent of kids, though, felt stressed out by school, a feeling more common among girls. The biggest sources of worry or stress were tests (33 percent) and math class (17 percent), while bullying and reading class each were cited by 5 percent each.

So how can parents help stressed out kids? The first step, says Borba, is to recognize it. "Tune in, because each kid has their own sign – for some it’s their sleep habits." For others, it may be something else.

The study found that a majority of kids felt it was more important to work hard than to be smart when it comes to doing well in school. Working hard was listed as being more important by 76 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys.

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.