Phone or Family?

“Dad, can we play?”

“Dad, can we read this book?”

“Dad, how big is Neptune?”

If you have children, you’ve heard similar promptings from your children inviting you to engage with them and participate in their lives. And, if we’re being honest, we’ve all had those moments – head buried in the cell phone – where we’ve mechanically responded, “not now, honey” or “give me a few minutes.” 

While the occasional distraction is necessary, it is far more of an epidemic in our tech-savvy society than we would like to admit. How many times have we been out to dinner and seen a family disengaged, heads in their cell phones? Maybe you are that family and don’t realize it.

Psychologists and other experts all agree that this is sending a hurtful message to our children: “you’re not important”. And our kiddos agree. Fifty four percent of our children said they think we (parents) check our phones too often. And thirty two percent said we make them feel unimportant when we do this.

Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center, observed that smartphones and handheld devices were interfering with bonding and parental attention. Radesky said, “They (children) learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them. They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

Now I don’t need an expert or sociologist to tell me I’m disappointing my child. Their faces say it all. And since I don’t intentionally want to disappoint them and because of the higher emotional intelligence of my wife, who recognized this long before I did, we have implemented rules regarding usage of cell phones when we’re together. When I get home, the cell phone is put away out of reach and is not pulled out again until the kids go to bed. When we are together as a family, eating, playing, driving, the rule is: no cell phones. The odd thing is that I find myself having a Pavlovian response wanting to check it, as if I will miss something important. And I’m sure you do too. 

But I suggest, as someone who has made his fair share of mistakes when it comes to this point, that the only thing you’re missing is that precious time with your child. It has taken me getting older to realize that I can’t go back. Maybe that reality has hit you too. 

I love the convenience of technology and the benefits my smartphone afford me in business. But whenever I am tempted to neglect those sweet little moments in trade for some cell phone time, I remember the story a friend told my mother-in-law. A mom with four small kids was packing up to leave the beach. If you have ever had small children, I don’t need to say any more. And as the frazzled mom walked past an elderly couple sitting nearby, she overheard the women say to her husband:

           “I miss those days. I wish I could experience that one more time. I tell you,

           the days are long, but the years are short”

That changed our friend’s perspective and it changed mine too. I hope you give it some heed the next time you reach for your cell phone. 

Thanks for Reading

Will