In the device-driven world in which we all must live, it’s so easy to become a distracted parent. Always reluctant to give into the latest gadget, I just got my first smart phone in August. Since then, the addiction crept up on me.
For years I’ve enjoyed connecting with people via Facebook, and before the smart phone I had to find the time. The process of sitting down at the computer in a quiet moment, usually after the kids were asleep, kept my social networking in check. But now the Internet is in my hand, in my pocket, on the counter next to me, lighting up with every post, alerting me incessantly to every text.
People complain about teenagers and their phones, but at least they aren’t raising children. I’d rather see a teen or tween with their eyes glued to their screen, than a mom on the playground. You’ve see her around: the mom who could be talking to her little one about all there is to see, but instead is looking at her phone.
On any given day you might catch sight of the parent in the car line at school pick up who continues to talk or text while their child gets in the car. How about saying “Hello” and meaning it? How about not driving distracted, even if it is at only two miles an hour, while a bunch of young children who do not yet know the rules of the road mill about looking for their parents?
When I was growing up there was always the kid out on the field or floor, looking for the parent in the bleachers, the one who never came. Now there is the added heartache of the parent in the stands who only takes their eyes off their phone now and then, and the look on their child’s face when mom or dad misses their big play.
We recently had a houseguest who was attached to her iPad all day long. Whether she was looking at Facebook or playing Words with Friends or Candy Crush, she glanced down at her screen in mid-conversation constantly. It’s frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is partially elsewhere. I felt especially sorry for her son when he tried to get her attention. She could barely mask the look of annoyance at the interruption.
New Year’s resolutions are an age-old tradition and for middle-aged parents common themes over the years have been diet, exercise and maybe cutting back on wine or some other vice. Social media moderation is the new frontier for many to tackle. This insidious compulsion has crept up to haunt parents and it appears that some are yet to recognize it as a problem.
In the business of keeping a family afloat and functioning, it’s hard to believe that something as unnecessary as social media has become a priority for so many of us. Smart phones certainly have their use and a place in our lives, but the unmoderated connection to Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, along with those huge, group text messages that can cause a phone to alert every few minutes, can rob a parent of any quality time with their kids.
I admit that I don’t know if that mom at the playground was closing a huge deal, checking on the status of a terminally ill relative or scheduling a visit to the White House, but my bet is that she wasn’t. Cell phones used to be used for emergencies, for work, for crucial things like getting directions when lost or alerting the day care to a late pick up. Now, however, they are used mostly for the least urgent of matters, and these distractions are available around the clock.
Social media is, for me, a guilty pleasure. Not to say I haven’t made a few meaningful connections with people from my past on line; or have the ability to keep in closer contact with loved ones far away. But the realization hit me over the holidays when I noticed my head jerking towards the phone every time it made a noise or lit up. It was taking me away from the quiet moments that matter with my family. I don’t want to put my phone before my kids. I could miss the truly important stuff right before me.
My resolution is to strictly compartmentalize social networking, which can still have its proper time and place, away from my children. I will not look at my phone while we are snuggled up on the couch watching “family TV.” I will read, color and do puzzles with my toddler before pulling out the phone to kill time. I will not answer the phone or a text message when I am having dinner or helping with homework. My kids need to know that they are more important than whatever is on that screen.
Today I changed my phone settings so that Facebook posts do not cause my phone to alert me. The number of times a text message will send me a reminder alert went from 10 to two. I “unfollowed” a few news pages and blogs that eat up my attention with gratuitously violent or celebrity-focused headlines. I will not look at social media unless the kids are asleep or at school. These are just the first few, small steps towards connecting more consciously to the here and now.