Friday, January 6, 2012

Parenting unplugged

Me at my college reunion  
Lately, I've been hyper-aware of how much time I spend on my phone.  Mostly this comes as a negative reaction to watching friends and strangers who are parents zone out of parent-kid time by checking email, texting, or updating Facebook statuses.  Now Pinterest has an app.  We are all in trouble!  My husband used to be one of those parents.  We both struggle with ADD - he was diagnosed ten years ago, I was went in for testing just last fall - so the urge to look at shiny objects is stronger than we'd like.  When he first got his iPhone, I recall watching him walk down a busy sidewalk downtown, head bent over his phone, never looking up.  It worried me.  He could walk into a fire hydrant.  The trolley could jump the curb and hit him without him even flinching.  Then something snapped for him and now as soon as he gets home from work, he plugs in the phone upstairs and joins the family in evening activities.  He made a conscious effort to be present and I really applauded him for that.  I have a harder time with willpower, with silence, with awkward situations where I have to wait, so I use my smartphone as a social crutch.  At my 20 year college reunion, one friend snapped a photo of me in a corner checking Facebook on my phone.  I was surrounded by people I hadn't seen in TWENTY YEARS, but there I was (and am for all posterity in that photo) surfing the web instead of interacting with live humans.   Since my husband has made the switch to ditch the phone at night, and during family moments, I am making an effort as well.  And this has made me aware of how much other parents rely on their phones.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to Google search the affects of cell phone use on parent-child relationships, thinking I'd find a cache of articles on distracted parents and an increase in children's accidents.  Something along the lines of "Mother, distracted by phone, fails to catch falling child" or "Father, engrossed in YouTube meme, allows clown to mug son."  But, oddly, I only found articles about choosing phones and phone plans for your children, or the effects of cell use by teenagers on parent-child relationships.  Maybe I've hit upon a new area of study or maybe cell phone companies - both manufacturers and phone plans - are influencing the media with ad money.  Call me cynical.  All I know is I see an alarming number of parents of small children, toddlers up through elementary age parents, scrolling around on their phones instead of interacting with their kids.  I've also seen teachers - yes, paid teachers! - on field trips, whip out their smart phones and get sucked into their virtual reality while the learning goes on (or doesn't) around them.  I'm not just pointing fingers.  Well, maybe I am just a smidge, but I've done it too.

While I'm not fond of resolutions and my new Zen guru, Leo Babauta, over at Zen Habits suggests we should live goal-free, I do have a goal to lose my smart phone crutch, to hang it up during the evenings just like my husband, and to definitely stay away from the screen before bed when it tends to suck away moments of sleep time.  All of this constant checking and liking and texting and sharing and emoticoning can be anxiety-producing.  Sharing and connecting are good things and I will hold onto my Facebook account, continue to check email, but I just will not be a junkie about it.

Photo, courtesy of David J. Owen Photography