It was a beautiful afternoon. My infant daughter slept peacefully in her car seat beside me, facing away so the mist from the splash pad would not bother her. Her brother was joyfully galloping through the fountains and splashing in the puddles, and somewhere along the way, he made friends with some of the other children there. I watched as they carried watering cans over to a nearby palm tree and sat under it together, acting out some scenario unknown to me. I smiled at their creativity and easy friendliness, and glanced over to the other adults sitting on the adjacent bench, intending to share a look of “aren’t our children the cutest?!” But that look was not to be had. They were all looking down at their phones. Why does have to be phones vs spending time with your kids?
Now, I do not pretend to be a saint who is never digitally distracted. It is an active struggle for me sometimes because there is a real impulse to repeatedly check the same apps or scroll absentmindedly. I also do not by any means oppose the use of technology altogether. It can do amazing, positive things, like keep my little military family in touch with our faraway loved ones. But since having children, I am trying to be more aware of how much time I am spending immersed in my little virtual world instead of in their real-life one. I have started forcing myself not to give in to that impulse so often, and I have been very pleased.
Let me tell you why.
1. I get so much joy out of watching my son play on his own. I marvel at how much he has grown in such a short time, and I swell with pride when he is kind to others. And, I reminisce on the days when I was small and wild and free like he is.
2. I want to keep an eye out for cues for teachable moments. Sometimes children need someone to step in and show them how something works or help them navigate a new social situation. Limiting my own screen time has helped me help my son in so many ways.
3. I want to make sure he stays safe, and keeping my eyes and my attention primarily on him is the only way to do that. Children unknowingly walk into dangerous situations all the time, and it is our job as parents to prevent that from happening to the best of our ability.
4. I like to make new friends myself, and I know that many people suffer from social anxiety and for them this may not be an option, but I would venture to say that the majority of us could really benefit from some face-to-face conversations and nearby friends who do not live in a computer.
5. I want my son to know that he is important enough to have my full attention whenever I can give it, rather than to see himself as something distracting me from Facebook. I also want him to learn from my example how to interact with and pay attention to the people around him.
6. Children aside, I find that my mental health improves the less time I spend on my phone. Living in the moment is so gratifying. I appreciate the beauty around me, and let my mind wander without trying to put a constant stimulus in front of it. I take joy in my own life instead of becoming weighed down with the plight of so many others.
So, my plea to you is this: look up.
Look up and see your beautiful child being imaginative and outgoing. Look up and teach them about the things they are struggling with. Pay attention and keep them safe. Look up and socialize with the people around you instead of the people in your newsfeed. Look up and just be.