Smartphones — I get it. They’re everywhere. What did we do before this fabulous device that answers questions, allows us to communicate and forecasts the weather? A few months ago, I was in a hair salon and one of the women had her six-month-old baby with her in a stroller. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a toy in the stroller. It reminded me of when I had one of those old-time toy mirrors you strapped to a crib or stroller for babies so they could see their reflection and interact with the image. I walked over and, with permission, peeked in the stroller to find this adorable child watching an episode of “Baby Einstein” on an iPad.
For more than 30 years in education, I have observed the different ways that parents are interacting with their children. In 2018, I watch children being put into cars at the end of the day and handed their parents’ cellphones while they are driven home, presumably to keep them entertained and occupied. In preschool and primary school, one of the biggest transitions children have is not touching the school computer monitor screen to use it, thinking it works like an iPad.
Now, don’t go thinking this article is going to go down the road of technology damaging our children — there is some good early data out there about solid screen-time benefits for children, including a TED talk by Sara DeWitt called “3 Fears About Screen Time For Kids — And Why They’re Not True.”
In truth, the purpose of this article is to talk about what you’re missing when kids are plugged in. I’d like to play a scenario for you in two different ways. Both begin after a long, tiring day of work for you — sorry. The first scenario has you giving your children your smartphone while you strap them into the car to make your drive home. You’re going over the events of the day in your head and reminding yourself of all the things yet to be done when you get home. You stay at a sustained level of agitation and exhaustion.
Now, you are home and the evening tasks begin. You do not have time to play because you have dinner to make, children to bathe and a partner to interact with. Hurry, move, hurry, move and now you can go to bed to start all over again.
OK, so here’s scenario No. 2. You pick up your children and hand them a book or toy while you strap them into their seats. Once in your car, you ask your children about their day, and you keep asking questions when they just answer “yes” or “OK” until you get details about what happened in their lives today.
Questions not working? You play I Spy, or you sing along to bad children’s music you’ve heard too many times until you realize you aren’t thinking about work or your to-do list. You are just present in the car with your children and, without even realizing it, you are more relaxed.
Now, you are home, ready to make dinner. Before you begin, pull out a bunch of empty Tupperware, hand your children a plastic spoon (or two) and let them play. Have some conversation. Play some music you love and let it distract you for just a little while. Dinner won’t take any longer to prepare because your children are playing with you, and here is the absolutely GREAT thing: You have been present for so many wonderful moments in your evening that once everyone is in bed, and you are thinking of whatever didn’t get done, spending more time with your children who you love and adore will not be one of those things.
Amazing opportunities are all around you; don’t hand those opportunities over to your smartphone so quickly. That is the real danger of technology babysitting — it’s what you miss out on. Leave the phone alone — I 100 percent guarantee you won’t regret it.