At my local swimming pool, there is a big sign on the wall: ‘Be smart: Watch your child, not your phone’. Despite all the reminders that it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure the safety of their children, there are so many parents who only occasionally look up from their phone while their kids play unsupervised in the pool. I’ve often looked at them, mentally shaken my head and wondered, ‘Why would they be more concerned with updating facebook than their kids’ safety?’
Then I started thinking. Why are we more focused on our phones than our kids so often? The setting might be different – at the playground, waiting in the doctor’s surgery, or sitting on a train headed to the city – and the possible danger to our child might be less, but it is still the same thing. I’m the first to admit that I’ve done it and thought nothing of it. After all, I’m just trying to pass the time while I wait for my doctor’s appointment that was supposed to be an hour ago. I’ve even done it while my sons are up the other end of the pool with the instructor having their swimming lessons. Someone else is responsible for their safety for that half an hour, so it’s different. Or is it?
In some ways, I think facebook, twitter, and instagram have made parenting harder. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to connect with other mums, particularly when you are a SAHM and crave some adult interaction, or being able to look up the latest information about introducing solids is extremely valuable. But it’s the need to remain connected to this online world that is getting in the way. All the time spent on our iPhones is taken away from time that previous generations spent elsewhere. What is missing out? Housework? Knitting? Or is it our children?
In the last month I’ve really become aware of the impact my ‘social networking’ is having on my family. My youngest son asks for a story while I sit on the computer and I tell him I just need to do ‘one more thing’, which inevitably becomes four or five things. My husband comes home from work and while he is telling me about his day I glance at my newsfeed. I sit by the side of the pool during swimming lessons and ‘check-in’ but I have no idea what new things my boys learnt that day. How is this affecting my family?
It affects them in a number of ways. When I tell my son I am coming and take 15 minutes, I am teaching him that I am unreliable. When I am looking at my newsfeed and not paying full attention to my husband, I am telling him that he is not one of the most important people in my life. When I am watching my phone rather than my sons during their swimming lessons, I am letting their little lives pass me by. And most of all when I do that, I am absent from their lives as well. I don’t want that to be what they remember about this time in their lives.
So, I’ve been making an effort to remember that my family is my primary focus. And it’s been hard – a lot harder than I thought it would be. That online world is addictive and I really had no idea how much I depended on it to feel connected to others. I have to keep asking myself, what is my priority? So, now I only get on facebook at certain times during the day when I know my attention doesn’t need to be elsewhere. When my son asks me to read him a story, I stop what I am doing and I read it. And the second. And the third. And you know what? I enjoy being able to snuggle with both my boys on the couch while we read (even though I really wish Incy Wincy would find somewhere safer to live). When my husband talks to me I look him in the eye and thank God for the constant blessing he is in my life. When my sons are having their swimming lessons, I watch them, and I get to laugh at the way my youngest tries to watch his feet while he is using the kickboard, or at how my eldest has taken to duck diving when it is his turn to jump in. The best thing is when they see that I am watching and they wave excitedly.
I really wish I’d put my phone away sooner.