Parents know that they are supposed to limit our children’s exposure to technology. Television, the internet, game consoles and tablets tend to suck in kids’ attention, and can discourage the type of imaginative play, free-thought, and physical exercise that we know is important for their mental and physical development.
But you know who really struggles to step away from technology? Me.
In fact, I find it pretty easy to limit my kids’ technology use. They aren’t allowed to watch TV or have tablets in the car; they only rarely get access to computers or TV when the sun is up.
Of course, I have no such restrictions. That means my smartphone is always within reach, inviting me to send an email, check some online errands off the to-do list, read the latest headlines, or take a picture to capture a precious moment that—apparently—I’m eager to turn my real attention away from.
Ten years ago, when I first became a mom, there wasn’t nearly as much temptation. Sure, I had a cell phone and even a Blackberry that gave me email access wherever I went. I made use of these convenient distractions, typing emails and chatting on the phone while my babies and then toddlers played around me. Yet that was only so interesting. I ran out of emails to send and people to talk to, so would end up whiling away hours with my little girls, overseeing rudimentary craft projects and ministering over their early (and often elaborate) pretend-play.
Today it’s different. New technologies offer so much more entertainment and are so readily available. Worse, for type-A types like me, there is so much that I feel like I can accomplish. I can respond to a work email, read up on a serious news story, pay bills, buy school supplies, schedule a needed repair, send a picture or message to far off friends and family… and much, much more. All of these activities have a beginning and end—something specific and tangible that has been done and can be checked off a list—in contrast to the amorphous, repetitive activities that constitute much of the time we spend parenting.
I still have very little kids in the house. That means I ought to be stacking blocks, repeating the dozen words from worn-out board books, rolling cars, and play-acting with them and their stuffed animals and action figures. These activities are perfectly pleasant, but so quickly I feel the pull toward something more engaging and personally interesting. After all, my phone is always with me.
I’ve become unaccustomed to boredom too. I expect my kids to just stare out the window during long car trips and wait patiently in the grocery store line devoid of entertainment. But not me! My phone is out; I’m getting something done.
This is a first world problem to be sure, but nevertheless, it’s a real challenge for modern families. Parents who want low-tech kids have to also try to be low-tech parents. When I deny my oldest daughter access to a tablet or smartphone, she points out, “You always have yours.” I have my excuses—I need it for work, for emergencies, or I’m waiting for vital information from someone. But they are just excuses.
I’m trying to intentionally leave my cell phone behind on the weekends. The concept seemed almost dangerous at first: What if something happened? But I recall that, somehow, we all managed back in those dark ages of the 1990s. And most of all, I’m trying to recognize that when I’m playing Go Fish or focusing, actually focusing, on my four-year-old as she recounts last night’s dream, I’m accomplishing something of value. Those Daily Mail headlines will be there later; most of my emails only seem urgent. Focusing on my daughter is a much better use of time.
Of course, it’s tempting to start searching for advice online: I’m sure there are plenty of articles entitled “How to be a more engaged parent,” and “Seven steps to a healthier relationship with technology.” But perhaps it’s better just to walk away from the computer. In fact, I’m sure it is.