May I Have Your Attention, Please

We’ve had an unseasonably warm few days where I live.  The sun has been shining with temperatures reaching into the high 50s/low 60s; exceptionally nice for early February in Seattle. We couldn’t resist the urge to get the family outside to take advantage of the weather, so we headed to a neighborhood park.

Both of our kids love going to the park; our youngest son always seems to want to spend his time there picking up and dropping small rocks that line the playground floor. I often have to remind him to keep the rocks away from people and off the slide–he loves hearing the sound the rocks make as they crash down it.

Naturally, the park was full of families with children and pets this weekend, a wonderful thing to see. But there was something else in abundance at the park that wasn’t such a welcome sight: Smartphones. One Mom was talking on the phone while pushing her son in the swing, another was texting while standing near her child and yet another parent was sitting on a bench engrossed in whatever app he had running. The parents were there with their children, but not really present.

Smartphones and tablets and all the other impressive technological devices at our disposal these days make connecting with each other easier than ever. But are these connections occurring in a meaningful and authentic way?

There is a push in our society to be busy, or at least appear to be busy at all times—as if we weren’t busy enough without having to fake it.  The question is why?  Is it to impress other people around us? Do we feel like we aren’t good or important enough if we don’t seem to always be occupied? What messages are we sending other people with this constant flurry of meaningless electronic activity?  More importantly, what messages are we sending to our own children?

There will be those who claim that they’re so busy that this constant multi-tasking is the only way to get everything done; besides if their child is otherwise occupied it’s not a big deal and it’s no one’s business what they are doing with or how they spend their time.

I would argue that it does matter to our children how we spend our time. Children pay attention to these things, whether they verbalize it to us or not. By being engrossed in our electronic devices, are we unknowingly telling our children that they aren’t worth our dedicated, uninterrupted time?  That whatever we’re doing on our phone is more important than they are?And by constantly tuning out of what’s going on around us, are we really demonstrating how to make authentic and fulfilling connections with other human beings?

I walked over to a parent who was engrossed in their phone and whose child was playing with mine. I asked the parent how old their child was and it took a minute for the parent to realize I was talking to them. Once we made the connection, I went back to see what my son was up to. Sure enough, he was just about to put a handful of rocks down the slide. I called his name so he could hear me and said, “You’re not going to put those rocks down the slide are you?” He turned around to look for me. He’d seen me talking to the parent a moment earlier, and I suspect he thought I was still engaged with this and not paying attention to what he was up to. He had the biggest smile on his face. Not because he had gotten caught, but because he realized I had been paying attention.

What’s your policy on electronics when it comes to your kids?

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