I was at the park last week with Ian and was shocked to see how many parents were glued to their phones. Faces down, brows furrowed, eyes tracking side to side. Meanwhile kids hoot happily and sprint around the playground. Until someone cries- at which point the parent reluctantly pulls him/herself off the park bench and away from the phone to attend to the child. (For the record: this is not unique to parents. I’ve seen all manner of folks exhibit this same behavior, such as folks out to dinner glued to their phones for the duration of the meal.)
I’m all for technology. I have a smart phone, and I certainly do my share of internet surfing. But when we’re out and about, and Ian wants to play with our involvement, I leave the phone stowed.
Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about the parent who is taking pictures with the phone. Or the parent who gets an important phone call or text message or email. I’m talking about this phenomenon where we can’t bare to look away from the screen. We’ve gotten so used to using the phone as a time waster and boredom solver that we don’t even think about what we’re doing. We don’t consider what this behavior might be telling our children.
And I have thought about this a lot. What does this tell our children? Maybe it tells them that our phones are more interesting and important than they are. Maybe it tells them that it’s OK to shut out the outside world. That it’s OK to not want to make eye contact or say hello to others. Maybe it tells them that we are only interested in connecting and interacting with them on our own schedule. Maybe it tells them we don’t prioritize their desires and needs.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately??), Ian is just starting to talk, so he can’t tell me the impact these things might have on him. How he perceives an almost obsessive screen time love affair. If he notices or cares.
But I do know this. I’ve been trying to be more conscious of my phone usage at home (since I’m already hyperaware when we are out) and really limit it when he’s around and actively trying to engage with me (do I need to read that stupid buzzfeed list?). And I’ve noticed a change in behavior when I put the phone down. When I look at him and ask what he’s doing or what he’s playing. When I get down on the floor and play with him. Or just watch interestedly when he shows me something. He smiles more. He is better behaved.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And I don’t think this is too much for me to ask of myself- for him to ask of me.
Obviously we can’t (and shouldn’t) cater to our childrens’ every wish, and independent play is definitely a good thing. But in my humble opinion, there is just something so good, so fulfilling, in putting the phone down and enjoying our kids. That crap on the internet will be there forever. These days with our kids are fleeting…let’s embrace every minute!