I have read several articles lately about adult cell phone usage and how it impacts our children. The observations and messages are clear. Parents are spending abundant amounts of time looking down at their screens instead of engaging with their children. I agree whole-heartedly with the message and as an advocate for children, I want to shout from the rooftops “Parents, put down your phones!” The truth is this would be hypocritical of me. I, also, spend too much time on my phone. Whether it’s sharing a laugh with my friends via text, checking out social media, reading people’s blogs or simply scheduling and logistics, I am on my phone when I could be engaging with my family.
The Cell Phone As a Security Blanket
This summer, for the first time in my life, I went to dinner by myself. I was in Houston at a training program, it was the first night and I hadn’t made any friends yet. I went to dinner alone, and once I got there I realized I left my phone at the hotel. I felt myself start to panic. How would I make it through an entire dinner with just my thoughts? I actually considered leaving, but my manners wouldn’t allow me to run off after I had already been seated. So I sat there, very uncomfortably, without a thing to do. To make matters worse, I was seated on a platform raised above many of the other patrons. There was no way to walk into this lively restaurant without seeing this middle aged lady sitting all by herself at dinner. It’s funny, but if I had my phone, I would have still been visible in the same way, but in my mind, I would have felt comfortable. Like so many other people I fill up my quiet time and my downtime with my phone. I let my phone create an invisible bubble around me. That same bubble that makes me feel inconspicuous when I am riding in an elevator or at dinner alone, also puts an invisible barrier between me and other human beings, including my family.
The Cat’s in The Cradle, but the Cell Phone’s in My Hand
For a while I was justifying my time on my phone by comparing myself to others. At least I am not on my phone as much as this person, or that person. However, my children have been very pointedly sharing their disappointment, “Oh mom’s in Textland again. She can’t hear us.” This is painful. I realize it doesn’t matter to my children how much time other adults spend on their phones. It matters to my children how often I am on my phone. It matters because I am important to them and they want to spend time with me. And isn’t that what we, as parents, want, too? We know they grow up too quickly. We know how time flies.
So you see, I can’t implore you to do anything, because I am caught up in it, as well. Instead of this article being a command, Parents put down your phones, it’s an invitation. Let’s put down our phones together.
The next time we are out to dinner, at a playground, in line at an event or even sitting in our recliners after a long day, let’s not reach for our phones. Let’s engage in conversation, or observation. In the Montessori classroom so much of what we know about children comes from our observations. We cannot assess a child’s knowledge, skills or development, without watching them. Just because a child doesn’t need active engagement, doesn’t mean he or she needs to be ignored. The next time our children are occupied with their homework or playing with their toys, let’s watch for a minute. What are they doing? What skills are they using? Who are they? Who will they become? Let us view our children with that same sense of wonder that they view the world.
A New Course
This is new ground in the world of parenting. We can’t turn to the generations before us to guide us through this path. If you are like me you are probably very careful about how much screen time your children experience. You are probably highly aware of the impact video games have on children, socially, emotionally and academically. It’s time now for us to exam our own screen time and screen usage. What are we teaching our naturally creative, innately curious young people when we hold up our hand because we are too busy on our phone to acknowledge them? What are we conveying to them when we say “Uh-huh” and “Yes” and “mmhmm”. Children are very intelligent. They can easily translate these half-hearted acknowledgments for what they really are-a dismissive, but clear message, “I’m not really listening to you right now.”
Let’s Put Down Our Phones
Our children do not get enough of our time. When we are on our phones we are not modeling eye contact, facial expressions, body language. When we are on our phones we are missing out on moments that we can’t get back. I am not preaching, I am not commanding. I am just inviting. Let’s leave our phones in our pockets and purses at restaurants. Let’s not bring them in to the dentist office or pull them out while waiting in line. Let’s come home at night and put them away until after our children go to sleep. Let’s do this for our family. Let’s do this for ourselves. Let’s put down our phones.