Sure, I’m dating myself here, but my parents didn’t have smartphones, or even cell phones, when I was growing up. There wasn’t something constantly buzzing on their wrists or ringing in their jacket pockets. There was nothing competing with my mom’s attention when we were spending time together.
I’ve been recently exploring this thought. I’ve told my five-year-old sons to call me out if I’m on my phone and not listening to them but as a massive consumer of news, I’m as guilty as anyone else for having it around me more often than I should. I’ve just started to think about how I would have felt growing up if I had to compete with a phone for my mom’s attention. I can imagine I wouldn’t have liked it. I can imagine it would have impacted my childhood in different ways.
Last week, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I’ve always been against teenagers having smartphones and access to social media (I have strong feelings on it after spending two decades coaching college women and middle school and high school-aged girls, but maybe that’s best saved for another time) and the documentary solidified my feelings. It also made me feel guilty about my own social media use; where the balance of sharing my life and living my life coexist.
But even if I shelved social media today, I’d still be on a phone. My mom and sisters and I text all day long in a group text. It’s awesome, but it’s still a constant distraction at different times of the day. Part of my job involves texting my players and being on email and all the things we think we have to do now to stay in touch for work. “It’s a work email” is something I’ve said to annoyed little boys many, many times and, despite their obvious frustration, they do understand that it’s work.
But so what?
What if my mom never could have unplugged? I grew up completely encased in love and support from my mom. I want the same for my sons. Do I have a blind spot here? Is it possible what I say and what they see don’t add up? Is it damaging? I don’t have those answers. I know when I’m watching a cartoon movie with them, the real temptation is for me to just scroll through Twitter. The bigger the news headlines earlier in the day, the more likely that happens. My sons aren’t toddlers anymore. Do they notice? Do they care? What message am I sending?
Sure I’d rather be watching anything other than Spookley the Square Pumpkin, but they chose to watch it with me. There is no breaking news that’s more important than that.
I’m thankful I didn’t have to compete with smartphones as a kid. Not iPads, and not even laptops (I told you I was dating myself). Life was busy enough with sports and recitals as it was, it would have been frustrating to never quite really hold my mom or my grandparents’ attention. We didn’t even have the TV on very much. When I wanted to speak to my mom, I was only competing with my siblings. There was nothing else creeping in on her attention.
That is not the reality for our children. We are seldom more than a few feet away from a device that directly competes with them. I don’t know how we got here, but I am certain the long-term effects of this on our children will be severe. I don’t want my sons to be part of an experiment. They are worth more than 75% of my attention. The fact I even have to write that, that, as parents, we even have to roll that around in our heads, tells us all what we need to know.
We have to put down our smartphones. Election coverage certainly isn’t helpful in this resolve. But when I did take a break from Facebook and Instagram for a few days, let me tell you, I was okay with it. There is a time to scroll. There are plenty of times to post. But those times can’t be when it directly competes with our children’s attention.
I can’t imagine how that would have felt growing up. I can’t imagine having had to share my mom with smartphones and the instant internet access. My sons are only five so there is still time to manage this before it’s too late. There is a lot of life happening in real-time, and I am afraid I have been missing too much of it.
If you’re feeling the same, let’s make the change. Even if it’s slow, let it be measurable. I watched the updated Grinch movie tonight (the fourth time I have seen it), and despite thinking Twitter would be more interesting, I stuck to wondering how Max came to be so loyal to the Grinch while I snuggled my sons and left my phone sit unattended. Baby steps, but steps. It’s nothing worth putting in a status update but then again, maybe that’s the point.
Those updated statuses are great, but they can wait until the right time. My children, on the other hand, can not. Their time as kids is short and, as parents, we already feel plenty robbed by time. Let’s just focus on how to better spend it. I will be forever grateful my mom did.