We’ve all seen them: the parents who are pushing a park swing with one hand and checking their email with the other. Or the mom who hasn’t interacted once with her child since they sat down at their fast-food booth because her face is glued to her phone screen. Then there’s the mother who is loudly speaking to someone on her phone rather than to her own child who begs for her mother to watch her go down the slide.
And for most of us, despite our best efforts, we have all been that parent at some point.
A new study published this month in the journal Pediatrics watched 55 parents and children interact in fast-food restaurants. Of those, 44 used their devices during the meal and 16 used them throughout the meal.
I make a conscious effort to choose my kids over my cell phone – most of the time. Of course there have been those moments when I catch myself saying, “Just one more second, honey” while I reply to an email or do something else on my phone that I’m certain can’t wait until later.
But honestly, it usually can. The problem is, it’s just so convenient. It’s right there. It will just take five seconds to respond to the email, make that phone call or send a text. And after all, we give up our whole lives for our children, is it really so bad to take a few minutes for ourselves to check our email or read the news?
More and more, I’m determined that the answer is yes, it really is so bad. Those quick seconds tend to turn into minutes and those minutes turn into a pattern. Children see the tops of parents’ heads at the lunch table instead of having a conversation. They get used to going down the slide alone. They stop begging for attention because they know that all they are going to get is a distracted, “uh-huh” from the front seat while mom is looking at her phone.
Of course it’s not just one time that sets these patterns. It’s the cumulative affect of days upon days of one quick look at my phone. On some level, kids internalize that whoever is on the other end of that phone call, that text or that email is more important than they are.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t think it’s a crime for parents to occasionally use their smartphones while they are with their children. But for me, a few simple changes, have made the cell phone trap not quite so enticing.
- Put your phone in purse and put both in the backseat while you are driving. This quickly curbs the temptation to check that email at the stoplight – or even worse, while driving. This not only makes you safer, it also frees up those red-light moments for conversations or car games with your children.
- Remove Icons. My husband installed several of my favorite web sites on my phone so that I could quickly push a single button and go to those sites. It was so convenient. Too convenient. All I needed was a second to check Facebook or my email or my favorite deal website. The problem was, once I clicked, I was sucked in and whatever was on those sites stole away my attention. So, I removed them. Yes, it takes more time to go to those sites now, but I find I only do it when I know I have enough time and attention to spend.
- Commit to phone-free meal times. I am a strong believer in the value of family mealtimes, but also in one-on-one lunchtimes with my preschool-aged daughter. Meals are a sacred time when life slows down for a moment, children tend to open up and we have some of our best talks. I don’t want to miss those moments, or have my daughter look back on a childhood of staring at the top of my head.
- Make a to-do folder in your inbox. Instead of taking the time to reply to every email while you’re with your children, simply move new emails into a “to-do” folder. You can come back and reply later when you have more time instead of trying to push a kid on a swing while also typing on your cell phone.
The bottom line is yes, it’s physically possible to do both. But you are shortchanging that tiny person in the swing who needs to see your smile as she soars and your eyes as you laugh. And even more, we’re shortchanging ourselves out of those moments that are gone so fast. Our emails will wait. Our children won’t.