TRAVELLING on the bus to work, I used to notice two very different kinds of parents.

There were those who sat facing their child, whether in a pushchair or sitting on a seat, and engaged them in conversation, whether it was explaining what things were on the bus or what they could see out of the window, answering their questions and asking questions their child could respond to.

One particular father, who had piercings all over his face and wore a daft woolly hat with bobbles dangling over his ears, defied all assumptions and was completely absorbed with his son, aged about three, engaging him in conversations that were funny, interesting and riveting.

Then there were those parents who placed their child’s pushchair so it faced away from them, even when their child was awake, or sat silently next to their child, and completely ignored them to concentrate on their phone instead.

It was obvious which of those children would fare better in life because children learn socialisation from their parents. From the very beginning of life, babies take their cue from their parents’ faces, the tone of their voices and their body language, even before they begin to pick up language itself as well as emotions and empathy.

If children miss out on this key developmental stage, their lack of social integration and subsequent social isolation has a negative impact on the development of the brain’s structure and they lose their ability to learn language. This was highlighted in a discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour last week when two primary school teachers explained that they were now seeing a new phenomenon. Children were starting school, aged four, unable to talk because they didn’t know basic words such as leg, arm, head, foot, coat and door. The reason, they discovered, was that their parents spent all their time on their phones, rather than talking to or interacting with their children.

One mother of young children who was also interviewed on the programme confirmed that she was on her phone for ten hours a day. When you factor in complaints by primary school teachers that children are also starting school still wearing nappies because their parents hadn’t potty-trained them and expected teachers to do it instead, it’s clear that parenting in some cases is failing.

I think it is because parenting is undervalued and undermined by a variety of factors in society. Mothers are told they should be getting back to work soon after the birth of their babies because it’s good for the economy and for their careers, often finding that when they do go back to work, their career has taken two steps back.

Mothers are encouraged to outsource their parenting to nurseries where babies and small children are left from 7am to 7pm because the money mummy earns is far more important than their child’s welfare. Not only that but all discourse about mothers is geared around not making working mothers feel guilty while at the same time stay-at-home mothers are never made to feel good about their decision.

Instead, they are assumed to be Fifties throwbacks and are dismissed as housewives with no brains, no professional ambition and no “go”.

Meanwhile, single mothers are just the pits, the scourge of society, whether they are single by choice or not, having been left. Whatever the reason, they have the toughest job struggling to bring up children alone and should be admired because they haven’t abandoned their children.

Fathers, too, are undervalued. A stay-at-home father is not understood at all and fathers in a broken relationship are often expected to leave the family home, then pay up but have no or limited access to their children. Paternity leave is only now being taken seriously, and fathers’ time with their children is ruthlessly undermined by employers who expect them to be at their beck and call 24/7 thanks to mobile phones and email.

The big social media companies are deliberately luring parents and children away from each other and children themselves are aware that their parents are spending too much time on screens. “Studies have reported that CYP [children and young people] are worried about their parent’s screen use and want them to engage with them, and so adults can lead by example through not using screens excessively in front of children and behaving online as they would in person,” reported the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies about screens and the mental health of young people. She also recommends screen-free meal times so families can “enjoy face-to-face conversation, with adults giving their full attention to children”.