I hope this will be the first in a series: The Most Important and Unexpected Things I Hope to Teach my Children. I came into parenting with a lot of preconceptions almost all of which I have thankfully shed. What I thought I needed to teach them has changed a lot too. Here is one I certainly didn’t expect to be so important.
Several months ago I had a seemingly small but powerful revelation. I had my two boys at the mall playground. I sat down, thankful to have them preoccupied for a few minutes, so I could pull out my phone and try to shut down my brain for a bit.
“Daddy, look at me!” I glanced up and saw Isaiah who had just climbed up the foam helicopter. Then he jumped. Such a big boy. The revelation then hit me when I looked around and every single parent there was staring at their phone, just like me. Wow. We were all missing it.
Here’s a whole tumblr blog showing pics of parents on their phones. Such a funny, cute, postmodern problem to have right? But I was left with this startling question:
Do we love our children more than we love their picture on Facebook?
This statement sounds trite. Of course I love them more than their picture on Facebook. But we are the first generation of parents to be raising children in a constantly-connected smartphone-always-within-grasp world. Now it seems that the distance from our hands to our pockets is too far, demonstrated by these bluetooth/smartphone watches that make notifications that much closer.
Picture this scene, which is all too familiar to me and plenty of other parents I’m sure: You’re playing with your children, having a great time. You’re all laughing. Then your child does something so excruciatingly adorable that it would be a crime not to capture the moment and then share it with your friends. You post it to Facebook immediately. Fast-forward three minutes: the playing has stopped. Now you’re on the couch, phone in hand, watching the likes and the comments pour in, updating every minute to see how many other people think your child is as cute as you do. Your child has stopped laughing, your attention having passed from them to their picture on Facebook. I am guilty as charged.
Of course I don’t love the likes and the comments more than I love them. But does my child know that? They are born with a sophisticated understanding of attention and love; they are not born with any awareness of the function of social media. I want to make sure that they know they are always more important to me than anything virtual. Sadly, I have to work on this, being present with them even at the end of a long day when I just want 20 minutes to veg out.
I’m not saying we all have to take an ascetic vow of technological-poverty. I am saying that I don’t think any of us has a good estimate of what effect this could have on our children over the course of their upbringing. No one’s ever done this before.