When my children were young, I was actively involved with them, playing board games, going outside, hiking, cooking together and more. We did lots of arts and crafts and sang songs. We made their Halloween costumes and decorations. We strung popcorn and cranberries for garlands on our holiday tree. I had nothing in my pocket distracting me from paying attention to them. When my granddaughter was young, in the last couple of years that I was raising her, I had a computer with games on it. I had always sworn off them before, but now life was incredibly stressful with both of my parents dying and my 20-year relationship ending, and I needed something to take my mind off things. She very quickly got used to my absence and would come right to my office looking for me. Often, she didn't say anything but crept away to do her own thing. Sometimes, she would bring a book or toy in, so she could be close to me. Luckily, I quickly realized what was happening and limited my computer time to after she had gone to bed. Eventually I got a smart phone. Now, that distraction was available to me all of the time. It was sad how accepting she became of it. Her younger brother tried to interact with me and whatever game I was playing, asking questions and asking for a turn. This made me feel terrible, and I soon gave up all games. I was shocked at how addicting they had become. It may have been my hardest addiction to give up.
So what are the ramifications of this trend? For one thing, we are giving our children a message that they are not important enough for our complete attention. We are also modeling dysfunctional behavior for them and helping to create a world in which everyone is virtually connected by physically or emotionally disconnected. And, most importantly, we are not always aware of imminent dangers. It has been found that there are more avoidable childhood accidents now than there were before cell phones became so common. I know that all children have accidents, and no matter how intently we are watching, things happen. But, there are more drownings, more children walking out in front of cars, etc. Many of these accidents have been due to parents being lost in their phones rather than watching their children. Also, child development is being hurt by the lack of emotional attachment found among families who depend on phones for communication and entertainment. Children learn how to communicate through actual verbal communication with their parents. Jack P. Shonkoff, a pediatrician and the director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, refers to this as "serve and return." Babies and toddlers depend on verbal conversation to learn new words and learn how to use them properly. I found this wonderful article that explains it very well. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/
So, does this mean that we all need to give up our phones? Certainly not. It just means that we need to be more aware of the time spent on our phones while our children are around. We should be interacting with them, having conversations where we look them in the eye. Mobile devices are important today, and our children need to be tech savvy. They should not be so dependent on them that they neglect physical contact with others, as I see often now. Teenagers are texting instead of chatting on the phone as I did at their age. They are obsessed with "selfies," posting photos of themselves instead of chronicling their memories as we did when we used cameras on vacations and events. They are missing those subtle verbal clues in the tone of voice or hesitations that we hear on the phone. They are missing the eye contact and physical clues that often help us understand what's really going on. And we are missing them when they text to us, their parents or grandparents. If one of my family members is texting more than a line or two, I insist that they call. I want to hear their voice. Video chatting can be fun if it doesn't dissolve into filters and silliness, though that has its place, too. It also enables us to have more meaningful contact with family and friends who are far away. As a grandparent, I valued my video calls with my grandchildren when they lived far away. And don't forget that anything we want to know about is right at our fingertips.
All-in-all, technology is a wonderful thing and has its place in our society and our families, but let's not forget our emotional attachments and the art of conversation. Nothing replaces the time spent with our children without distraction, and they will grow quicker than we realize at the time. I hope you don't lose that precious little time while they are young.