There was something to be said for the old-fashioned landline, with a handset so bulky, you had to tuck it between your neck and shoulder to get your hands free. They didn’t — couldn’t — go everywhere with us. Now we’re tethered to our mobiles — addicted, even. They’ve become handy tools for avoidance, and it’s our children who are getting the bad end of the deal.
All around me, I see parents with their babies and toddlers and young kids — but not with them. The grownups are on the phone. The dad pushing his son on the swing set while hands-free on his mobile isn’t really with his child. The mom pushing her baby in a pram while she’s yakking on the phone isn’t really with her child.
The kids aren’t too happy about it. They’re pulling on their parents’ clothes. They’re yanking on their arms. They’re acting out to get attention. I’ve heard them begging their parents to stop, disconnect. I’ve watched children start to whimper the minute the mobile is picked up — off the dinner table. During dinner. The son of a friend of mine recently announced, at age 10, that he hates cell phones. Actually, he will tell you he hates technology. IPads don’t fool him. Neither does texting. He understands that his father can never get away from his work — and the office won’t get away from his father. He sees the phone, and he thinks, I’ve lost my dad’s attention. And that’s what children crave: attention. We all do.
Parents have to break the phone habit before it is too late. I’m not talking about getting extreme here — no phone calls around a child, ever. But I am talking about giving more thought to all the missed opportunities for communicating with a child. For simply being with her. Quietly. I was pleased to find the blog of a young mother from Alabama, Rachel Stafford, who has started an aptly titled campaign called Hands Free Mama, encouraging parents to put away the tech toys and be present with their children.
Is being a parent boring? Sometimes. Lots of times. And guess what. Those boring moments are what you will miss the most once your children are grown. Carpool is when you should be hanging on every word. Walks are when the world unfolds at a child’s feet, in the safety of your company. The parent is the genius who gives names to things and encourages a child’s attention to detail on the path. The tiny accretion of daily routines is dull and divine. Of course there’s always plenty of time for a phone call, or 10 of them. Children are always slowly walking, slowly eating, slowly looking, slowly reading, slowly going nowhere, until suddenly they’re gone.
And giving the kids their own phones in the name of fair play doesn’t cut it. That’s happening all too often; families are together, but each person is in her own bubble of technology. Some of us worry about radiation and the developing brain. But we should be worried about disconnectedness and the developing mind.
One day, sooner than you realize, you will be with your child, wanting to talk. But she’ll be too busy. Talking to someone who isn’t there. And why not? You weren’t there when she was.
COVER STORY: Are You Mom Enough?