Parents on Smartphones
NPR recently aired a segment entitled “For The Children’s Sake, Put Down That Smartphone”. It sounds like a philosophy every parent could embrace. That is, every parent but me…and a handful of my fellow rebel parents. Hear me out. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I love my children. I do, in fact, love the snot out of them. Let me also be clear: I love my smartphone. LOVE IT. It completes me. It reminds me of important birthdays. It keeps me organized in a way that almost makes me want to cry, it’s so beautiful. I can access any song I want to compliment my mood. It feeds my OCD tendencies like nobody’s business. Doctor’s offices and co-workers can actually reach me. I can leave my house when the appliance repairman gives me a 72 hour window of availability where I would otherwise be stuck to my house. Siri directs me quite well to unfamiliar locales when I’m meeting friends at an obscure spot. My smartphone has made me a better person, a better wife, a better friend, and, dare I say it, a better parent.
Embrace technology? You bet your ass. Distracted all the time? Are you joking? I have three children. I can’t finish a sentence in my house. Life is distracting. But with my iPhone, I’ve never been so connected in my life. I have to say it is overwhelmingly a positive experience. Do I sometimes want to bash my head against a wall because some of my peers can’t not post every damn thing that happens to them on Facebook and my iPhone alerts keep going off? Of course. But we all use technology in different ways. If Twitter updates on my smartphone annoy me, I can stop looking at it. If my child needs my attention, I can give it to them. The solution isn’t to blame the smartphone or its instant accessibility to so many things. The solution isn’t to blame the bedraggled parent for looking at their smartphone for five minutes while their children play at the playground. Maybe that’s the first five minutes that person has had to de-compress all day. Then they get to push their kid on the swing for ten minutes. Or not.
In 1972 my mother wouldn’t even have been at the playground with me. She had no idea what I was doing most of the time. She sent me outside to play and I returned for dinner. I don’t know where this fantasy that parents, and let’s be honest, we really mean mothers, spent all that much time with their kids in the past evolved. I never remember my mother doing anything with me, and my father was always working. Always. Kids were expected to learn things on their own. Questions took the form of, “Did you learn how to tie your shoe yet?”, not “Let’s play another game of Scrabble!”
My smartphone gives me the power of information the likes of which the world has never seen before. I used to call my mother when I had a trivia question. Now I use my iPhone for that. Some might look at this development as sad. She doesn’t call her mom now that she has a cell phone. You know what? I still call my mother, and I do it more often because I almost always have my smartphone with me. Besides, my mother’s trivia knowledge doesn’t go past 1993. I can call when I’m thinking about her, not just when I have access to a landline. How quaint is that?
The NPR article criticized the parents for missing out on opportunities to personally interact with their kids. I have a confession to make: I don’t watch kids’ movies with my children either. Perhaps it is a character flaw, but I don’t have the fortitude for it. I can’t sit still that long watching something that doesn’t interest me. I do, however, spend an inordinate amount of time snuggling with my children. And I could probably get through a movie if I could check my phone every so often. Interacting with your kids is a valuable activity. But you know what? Using my iPhone and paying attention to my kids doesn’t have to be a mutually-exclusive proposition. I can interact with my children in ways my parents never dreamed with the aide of my smartphone. We dance to Earth Wind & Fire blaring from my smartphone when we’re making dinner. I introduced my kids to Schweddy Balls on my iPhone. These are important memories, people!
The smartphone is a tool, a very useful tool. You know what people who are always on their cell phones are? Rude. Don’t hold parents to a superior standard. Rude is rude. Parents don’t have to miss out on all the fun.