The Cell Phone: A Modern Day Thief of Childhood
You're sitting with your toddler as she happily colors in her storybook when she suddenly writes the letter B for the first time. She points to it proudly and says "B! Buh!" You cry "YES! So good! Can you write it again?" She does and doesn't stop there. She tries to write the letter "A" but says "Help, help" as she struggles to make the lines slant properly. You assist her and within moments she has written 8% of the alphabet...I mean, just this morning she was at 0%! You two practice a bit longer and discuss words that start with the letters she is writing, you sing the ABC's, etc...
Now imagine the story this way after you notice and celebrate her letter B victory:
You grapple for your phone to turn the on the video feature. "Can you do it again for mama?" you say as you position yourself to capture this moment. She looks at you and does it again, you both cheer, and then you stop to send the video to your husband, sister and parents. But wait, this is so good, you have to upload it to Facebook, oh but then you see 3 unchecked notifications glaring at you just begging to be seen. You don't notice your daughter struggling to write the letter "A" and when she asks for help, you are lost in thought over some photos posted by a high school classmate you hardly know. Now you're getting an unimportant email but you need to see what it says, oh and did you even check Instagram today? Oh what's the weather going to be? Your daughter gets up and moves on....a moment that could have been is gone. An opportunity missed. A child's learning neglected with her mother next to her.
A recent survey revealed the majority of kids (64%) felt as though their parents are too distracted to listen to them. What's so distracting? The same survey revealed technology accounted for 51% of the parents distraction from their children.
The Cell Phone Dilemma
Just take a look around and notice the amount of people holding or using their device and it's crystal clear. Our cell phones have the ability to act as a single source provider of our camera, camcorder, calendar, email, messaging, social media center, navigation, music dock, library, weather channel, encyclopedia, alarm clock, etc. and yet the phone piece of our phone seems to be one of the least used features. There are plenty of people buying phones with no phone plan!
While cell phone radiation seems to be a controversial subject, you don't have to prove to me the real toxicity is when we choose to look deeply into our phones rather than into the eyes of the company we're with.
Margaret Heffernan takes it a step further suggesting
Is this why there is a "need" for as-they-happen notifications when someone likes or comments on our posts and pictures? She goes on to explain that while we scroll through our phones, wherever we are, we are not mentally present. While she makes a case for entrepreneurs and business leaders to excel by putting down their phones, I am hoping to relay the same for our children's sake.
I am incredibly appreciative for the ability to capture and retain precious moments on film (it's not really film now is it?) or communicate with long distance friends and family, yet I find myself getting sucked deeper and deeper into the depths of my cell phone's app world, even when I'm with my daughter. I recently saw a series of candid photos of myself, and after I'd visually inspected myself for personal insecurities (typical trace narcissism many of us experience) I noticed I was looking at my phone in nearly all of them. Yikes.
I know our child(ren) cannot possibly have all of our one-on-one attention all day and even if they did, how is that helpful? How are we setting them up for success if our world revolves around them? How are we to teach them about responsibility, love and generally living life, if they don't see us doing chores, tending to other children, planning events, fixing broken items, working out, cooking, engaging with others, dealing with unexpected trials and on and on.
If you're like me, you recognize raising children is a gift as well as a responsibility. We are raising individuals to survive in the world without their parents. We want to instill values and discipline. We want to encourage their natural gifts and nurture their needs. We want to equip them to tackle life's challenges and disappointments. We want to show them how to give and receive love. We want them to be present in their life and plan for the future.
Even though my daughter is still a toddler, it has become abundantly clear that I cannot train her to uphold a lifestyle I don't embrace myself. I can't tell her to love others and expect her to do so if I don't display that in my life on a regular basis. In the same spirit, I can't expect her to look up from her book or toys to listen to me speak if my face is consistently buried in my phone.
Unplug for your kids
Try this the next morning/afternoon/evening with your child(ren):
- If you are out of the home, put your phone away and out of reach
- If you are at home, plug your phone in to it's charger in the middle of your house (plugging it in is important so you aren't tempted to walk away with it)
- Set up specific ringers/text notifications for important contacts (I only set up my husband and our lobby door downstairs) so you don't feel the need to rush to your phone at every ring or chime
or better yet
- Turn on your phone's Do Not Disturb function (you can allow phone calls to come through for specific people) or simply turn it off
- Focus your attention on your child(ren) without touching your phone for an hour or two
Here's what happens when I invest time without the cell phone interruption:
- My daughter grasps concepts faster and executes tasks with fewer mistakes
- We enjoy each other more. We laugh more. We partner more.
- We are more creative
- We have fewer negative incidents (mostly none)
- I use words to tell a story
Taking photos = Memory Loss
Have you ever thought about how much you rely on pictures or video to tell a story? I'd find myself starting to tell my husband about an experience but then top because I realized I had a photo or video to do it for me. Sometimes photos can tell such an exquisite story, but the ability to describe moments with our words is not a natural talent for most people, it takes practice. Sometimes I let my photos do all the talking and it unconsciously ties my memory to that photo instead of my mind.
A new study shows that people actually have worse memory of objects and details when they are taking pictures, dubbed the "photo-taking impairment effect." We are taking so many pictures but aren't actually living in those moments!
Do you have friends or family you can sit around with and you all recall memories together? Sometimes the fact that we all remember it so differently is the best part! I love it! I fear my daughter is going to grow up with a generation that sits around the couches flipping through their phones to stimulate their minds and memories.
Every so often, I'd encourage you to allow moments with your children to pass without taking so many pictures. Instead, tell them stories to help them learn this art. Write about it in their baby book!
And while I am not opposed to pictures and videos, you know I have thousands to prove it, perhaps investing in an actual camera for special times rather than using our phones every 45 seconds. This would allow us to capture precious moments without the temptation of one of the single most time-suck devices of all humanity. I don't actually know if that's true, but it sure seems like it.
My best days with my daughter are the ones where I allow myself to completely forget about my phone. I come back to a series of missed messages later; all non-life threatening, while I nurtured the life of my daughter's.
Can you imagine how engaged and creative our children would be if parents interacted away from their phone more than on it? Help them feel adequately and rightfully engaged. Let's not be a generation of parents who limits their child's screen time without limiting their own. Let's lead by example and go make some old-school memories.
I originally wrote this post as a guest blogger for Positively Oakes