People say it's judgmental to knock parents for using their phones. We're only human after all, right? We have the right to take a break. Socialize. Respond to work emails. Share sweet photos of our babies on Instagram. Obsess over the latest celebrity tweet. Veg out and scroll through our Facebook feed.
We have the right and damn it, we are only human.
I, too, am only human. I, too, check my phone for work purposes or to share a cute photo of my girl on Instagram.
Phones are very much a large part of our worlds. It's like how the answering machine and CD player became must haves in the '80s: our phones are our fifth appendage.
But you see, phones are more than a necessity or tool for socialization. They are the competition. They are what diverts our eyes, distracts our attention, and keeps us from focusing on the people in front of us — mainly our children.
I'm not saying this because I am devoted to phone avoidance. I am saying this because I am attached to my phone. Because the phone constantly alerts me. Someone emailed me. Someone texted me. A client is getting back to me. Someone commented on my Facebook photo. The alerts go on day in and day out, taking my attention away from whatever is happening in the present moment.
As a child, I didn't have any object of competition for my mother's attention, other than my three sisters. And neither did many of you, I'm sure. Perhaps maybe my dad was a little too fond of the television, and so were many other parents; however, the difference between a television and a smartphone is that you can't take your television with you in your pocket!
But for our kids, our phones are HUGE competitors for our children's attention and time.
Look at it this way: imagine you are on a date with someone and he keeps looking at some woman at the bar while the two of you eat dinner at a nearby table.
Your phone is the other woman at the bar, and your child is the woman angrily wanting your date to "cut it out."
When it comes to your phone, you're not just answering phone calls or texts; you're responding to emails, Facebook alerts, Instagram alerts, online dating apps, alarms set from your calendar, and games. You have so many things going on in just one little phone, so how could it not be distracting you from your kids — or, for that matter, anyone?
The constant alerts distract me. Even when my phone is on silent, a bright light that alerts me that so-and-so shared a photo on Facebook still turns my head if the phone is in my view.
Our parents didn't have something dinging, vibrating, and alerting them around the clock, but we do.
I wish I could say it was easy to curb your phone time.
But I have found that the weeks in which I am diligently setting the phone aside, the quality of my interactions with my child increases. And I have found that she complains when her dad or I am on the phone too much, that she is frustrated.
I'm not saying for you to relinquish your phone. For many of us, it's the portal to our jobs and our social connections. Our grandparents had a village, but we modern-day mothers have mom groups on social media to get us through. For all of the stay-at-home moms who don't get to see another adult face for hours at a time, the phone could be the one way to access a support group that's vitally needed!
Keep your phone.
But each time we go to answer alerts, notifications, and the ring of our phones, we spend a moment away from our kids mentally. We could be physically present, but we are not 100 percent on the clock. You have just missed your child:
- Making a bad choice and getting the chance to fully discipline her
- Sharing a sweet secret with you
- Doing something big for the first time
- Saying, "I love you"
Does this mean we should all toss our phones and kick ourselves for being addicted to them? No.
Not a day should pass that you should feel bad for having a phone, wanting to socialize, or viewing social media sites. You could also miss all of the above moments because your other child puked, tripped, or had a tantrum over dinner . . .
However, you should consider how often you're using your phone.
Try setting it aside for a few hours of the day when you know nothing "urgent" is going to occur. For me, if my daughter is not in my care, the phone is at my side. But when she is with me after work hours, that's the time to set it aside. Find times that you don't really need to check in with anyone other than your family.
If you can't do that, try ticking off on a piece of paper every time you use your phone. At the end of the day, how many little marks are on that paper? Equal that to seconds or minutes you spent distracted and not focused on your family or yourself. Then, consider ways to reduce that time, but still keep your digital sanity in a world that requires the digital connection.
Keep in mind that if you are asking your child to limit his or her tech use and to "go play outside," are you really the best example of that? Monkey see, monkey do. This is another reason for you to monitor how often you are using that phone.
None of us can be perfect all the time. As parents, most of us are just trying to do our best. We are not going to revert to a phoneless age any time soon, but we can consider how often it's getting in the way of the little things in our daily lives that are really the most important things.