I took a poll at a recent parent workshop.
“Who thinks their phone is more important than their kids?”
There were no hands. No takers at all.
I was surprised by that. You see, every time I go out I see parents ignoring their children and focusing on their phones (or their ipad, or their kindle, or whatever).
Settling in at swimming lessons I noted that nearly every parent had some kind of device to occupy their attention while their kids swam. The swimmer’s siblings, waiting poolside for the lesson to finish, were equally rapt in ipads, phones, or DS’s.
At the soccer fields on the weekend the children were running themselves ragged but the spectators weren’t watching the game. Their eyes and attention were cast downward to their laps where their devices clamoured for attention – and got it. The children raced to their parents at half-time to talk about the game as parents vaguely nodded “Hmmm” and “Wow, cool” while barely diverting their eyes from their electronic attention-grabbers.
Pushing my kids on the swings in the park on Sunday afternoon I observed nearly every other parent engaged, not with their kids, but with their phones, checking facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. They were too busy tapping their phones to interact with the kids, except to take a photo to share – an opportunity to collect likes and comments about what devoted parents they were, taking their kids out on a beautiful autumn afternoon.
And when the children wanted to talk:
“I’ll be there in a second”
“Don’t interrupt me. I’m busy”
“Just let me finish this and I’ll be with you”
In lines, at the movies, in restaurants, at traffic lights! The phone is the priority! It is ‘my precious’. More precious, it might seem, than the precious little humans that are being raised to be future mums and dads themselves.
What is it about our phones, tablets, and computers that makes them absolutely rule our lives? I have written and read countless articles about the dangers of our kids becoming addicted to devices and screens. But the fact is, we’re setting the example for them. Monkey see, monkey do.
As parents, we are addicted. We won’t admit to it in parenting workshops. But it’s a fact. Our phones have greater claim on our attention than our children.
The addiction is a problem. It is affecting the way we relate to people.
In our home we have made a few resolutions:
All phones are off as soon as dinner is served
Friends are asked to leave their phones in the ‘phone bin’ near the door so that we can really interact and enjoy each other’s company without interruption
No screens during dinner (or after it)
No phones or screens in the bedroom
And we also have resolutions around the way we use our social media and who we contact (see this movie trailer to see why that might matter).
It may seem draconian in our ‘always on’ world. But it reminds us to connect the way humans are designed to connect. And to disconnect to let our brains get away from the endless stimulation of the screen.
Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the need for these devices. In fact, I’m a big fan of technology. Because of twitter and facebook my kids can stay in touch with their besties from interstate – and I can run my business! My phone makes life easier than it used to be. The GPS gets me from A to B. I can call or text when we are running late. I can be entertained (although I’d argue that space for quiet and boredom is more valuable at times). I love my spotify and pandora, my e-book collection, and I couldn’t live without my MS Office.
The thing is, these devices are just tools. They don’t need our attention like people do, yet we give it to them more than the more precious others in our lives. If the parents in my workshops are right, then we really do want to be with each other. But it seems that the parents in real life also want to be connected to everyone and everywhere else as well. And we can’t have it all.
Maybe it’s time to try a digital diet. If we’re honest, this need to be plugged in and connected is something that almost all of us struggle with. The relationship between parent and child has profound impact on a child’s wellbeing and future relationships. If we’re disconnected from our family, then the kids won’t feel empathy, trust, security, comfort… worthy of our love and attention. They won’t communicate with us, inviting us in to the parts of their lives we need to be most involved in. And we can’t be the great parents our kids need.
So please, turn off your phone and connect the way humans were built to connect. And next time you head outdoors, make it green time rather than screen time.