Unsolicited advice feels like judgment – I get that. But writing for a moms blog is all about providing advice to and sharing experience with other moms in a judgment-free zone, right? So, in the spirit of sharing advice, as a mother of adult children, I thought I could tackle some of the topics I see right in front of me. Most recently, the prevalent use of smartphones has captured my attention and given me cause to worry about the future humans we are charged with raising. Here’s my unsolicited advice: put down your phones.
I love having my smartphone at the ready. I use it to get directions, order stuff, answer e-mail, scroll social media, and sometimes even call people. But I do believe we are bordering on a future crisis in the making as we model behavior that we likely will not want our children to emulate. We are creating a society of people who know how to swipe left before they can talk, who reach for the phone before they reach for a book or a toy, who cannot stand a moment of idleness without being entertained. We need to put our phones down and pay attention to the people, places, and things around us, to engage fully in creating relationships with our children so they can go forward and do the same.
Recently, I attended a concert at beautiful Chastain Park in Atlanta, to see one of my bucket list performers, Lenny Kravitz. As he took the stage, I looked down across the rows in front of me and every person was lit by a cell phone, trying to capture the moment and post it to their friends. I was busy trying to make eye contact because, well, Lenny and I have just missed our destiny to connect. But that’s a story for another time. Even Lenny wanted everyone to focus on the music and not the sharing, and he asked that everyone put their phones away and engage fully in the music. Like magic, the little lights went mostly out. By the time “Let Love Rule” closed the show, we were all on our feet, singing the lyrics, hands raised, not a cell phone in sight.
In the Wall Street Journal, I read an opinion piece from a parent who had experienced a couple of instances where children, not her own, had wandered away from parents engaged in their phones. In one case, a child had followed this parent and her child around a park for a half hour before they returned to the play area, where the mother had not even noticed her child’s absence. And when the mother was alerted to her child’s wandering, she informed her child that she should have stayed where she was told – then went back to her phone.
On a plane recently, which is the place where I try very hard to maintain patience with traveling children, a mother and her toddler were seated across the aisle from me. This toddler screamed, and I don’t mean crying, I mean screaming. The mother had no book, no toy, no snack, nothing but her cell phone. And whatever she was trying to engage the child with on that phone, he was not buying. She had no strategy for managing the flight together, and the rest of us paid for it. I did discover, however, that Florence and the Machine played at full volume through your head phones does blot out committed toddler screaming.
Finally, I serve as an advisor for a sorority chapter, which is challenging and rewarding. These young women are striving to make the transition from home to college and then to the world beyond. And they are crippled by and beholden to their phones. We have to require that phones are left out of chapter meetings because they cannot maintain focus for an hour. We have to maintain policies about social media posts because they do not understand the long-term ramifications of inappropriate posts. The phones have become like limbs, and they are lost without them attached at all times. Nothing is more saddening to me than watching a group of them sit together, engaged in their phones and not speaking to one another.
When my children were little, the discussion was all about screen time, meaning watching t.v. Doctors and researchers made recommendations about limiting the time and using the resource wisely, which for me was usually as the distraction when I needed a shower. And as video games and handheld devices moved into the picture, we had to navigate all the advice about game ratings and time spent head down over the devices. So I understand that technology advances and we need to advance with it. I just believe that, at this time, technology is advancing so rapidly that it is dramatically and negatively impacting the way our children will engage with the world as adults.
My plea to you, fellow parents, is to model better behavior with our phones and demand smarter interactions for our children. I truly believe our future as a society that engages meaningfully and respectfully with others is at risk if we do not.
If you would like to read more about parenting in the smartphone age, here are some helpful articles:
“Three Tips for Parents to Put Away Their Phones”
New research suggests your phone may undermine your parenting. Here’s how to limit your own screen time.
“An Age-by-Age Guide to Kids and Smartphones”
How should kids use cellphones? And at what age are they emotionally ready to have their own? Here’s what the experts have to say.
“What Parents Need to Know About Using Smartphones Around Kids”
Mobile technology can provide an escape for caregivers of young children — but it can also cause stress and negative parent-child interactions.