The ups, downs, twists and turns in my life have provided me with a unique perspective on technology and my behavior as a parent.
I was first married in the early 1990s and had two children – a boy in 1997 and a girl in 2001. Then, I divorced in the early 2000s and remarried in 2008. With my new wife, I had another boy in 2013 and another girl in 2015. Recently, a teaching colleague – surprised that I decided to go through parenthood again – asked me what the biggest difference between being a parent in my 30s and being a parent in my 40s/50s. I had never really thought about it (apart from the occasional lapses in energy and desire to take more naps) and my response to the question really surprised me. The biggest difference, for me, in parenting now versus the late 90s/early 2000s was the presence of my smartphone and the amount of time I spend online.
In my first round of parenting, the internet existed, but it was the days of a bulky computer anchored to a desk that required dialing up over the phone line to a screeching and agonizingly slow modem. Back then, it was easy to walk away from the lure of the world wide web and spend more face time with my children. My memories of those days consist of images of playing ball hockey with my son and dancing to the latest pop hits with my daughter. Once, I created a mini hockey rink in the basement and my kids and I would play down there for hours on end.
Today, on the other hand, my free time is structured differently. With a smartphone (and access to a planet worth of information) in my pocket, I am not spending as much quality time with my current round of offspring. There is always something urgent I have to look up or some email to respond to. There is always some sort of viral meme flying around that I feel the need to get caught up in. In general, there is always an excuse to look at my phone instead of playing with my children. I have no data to support this feeling, but when I mentally compare the amount of quality play time I spent with my first two kids and with my present kids, I feel that I am spending only a third of that time with the latter.
Energy is definitely an issue. I do not have the same energy I had in my 30s. But, the smartphone in my pocket is the real difference. It is so darn easy to take that phone out (especially when I feel that vibration of a notification – real or phantom) and plop down on a chair to stare at a screen. My screen time addiction is so serious that I often get up earlier than necessary to get some online “me time” – contributing further to my overall lack of energy!
Although I regret this lessening of interaction with my children, there are some positives. My kids are very good at entertaining themselves. As I write this, they are entertaining themselves on the floor, creating their own worlds and adventures with their toys. They certainly don’t need my presence or involvement to have fun.
Nevertheless, my past experience parenting (and my experience as a classroom teacher) has taught me that having a real and positive relationship with young people is vital to fostering a sense of openness and communication. Kids won’t listen to your advice if they don’t know/trust you. My first two kids and I were always able to talk about anything and they were open to listening to what I had to say – even seeking advice when necessary. I want to have that same kind of relationship with my new children. To do so, I have to be more intentional about carving out time for them and getting better about putting my phone down.
What do you think? Is a smartphone getting in your way? What do you do to ensure your focus is where it belongs?
I would love to hear your thoughts!