Despite my general ineptitude regarding all things technological, I DO own an iPhone. Or, I should I say, my iPhone owns me. Do I get that little thrill when my phone lights up with a text, tweet or alert? Yes, yes, I do. (Just not phone calls. Because if you want to call me, call my house line. And leave a message. Because I'm not picking that one up, either.)
So suffice it to say, because I enjoy my phone, I tend to want to have it close by at all times. I tweet. I text. I scroll through Facebook. I Google anything and everything. I put it down, briefly. But then I want to pick it up, because I might have missed something in the last 10 minutes.
But I'm a reformed iPhone junkie. Because while I do adore my phone and its nifty abilities, I adore my children even more. A year ago, I realized that my phone habits were adversely affecting my parenting. Case in point: the time I told my kids to stop pestering me... because I was busy reading an article, ONLINE, about the necessity of being online less and spending more time with your kids. Ironic, no?
Or there's the time I passed my phone, in sheer desperation, to my 20-month-old, while I was on a long line at the stores. YES, I was that mom. And I hate myself for it. But she was thrilled to watch Barney on Netflix. She was also teething. And while I unloaded my cart of goods, she proceeded to poke at the buttons and then attempted to gnaw the top of it like a tiny, teething badger. I immediately snatched it away, but not soon enough, apparently.
Did you know that baby drool, in addition to being generally... juicy... can instantly soak into your phone like an oil slick across the ocean? And that it can also render an expensive iPhone virtually useless? I do. Now. But no worries -- I went out and replaced my phone that very day, just in case someone needed to call me right away, and talk to my voicemail. Then I could check my voicemail, RIGHT AWAY.
You would think I'd have learned from that gaffe, right? Not so much. Because when my older daughter learned that she could watch movies, play games or FaceTime her favorite aunt via my phone, she begged at every opportunity to use it. Sort of like this:
"Can I use your iPhone? Can I use it? Can I? CanIuseyouriPhonepleaseplease?"
My two youngest daughters also spent a good deal of their days trying to cajole me into proffering my phone, which I didn't typically do. But no matter; they then resorted to "borrowing" it when the opportunity arose, which is a nice way of saying stealing it when I wasn't looking. When given the chance, they would snatch it off its charger and disappear into the smallest nooks of the house to fiddle with it.
And once I retrieved it, there was nothing more anxiety-inducing than staring at the screen, trying to analyze the now-jiggling apps and determine what was/could be missing. Even my toddler seemed to grasp the value of the phone, snatching it up in her little hands and dashing off with it, hurling it into the air if I gave chase.
The above incidents made me ponder why it was so important to my kids to get their hands on my phone. Yes, Barney the dinosaur can be brought to life via Netflix (which, at 20 months old, my toddler had already learned how to navigate), Angry Birds can be played ad nauseam and phone calls can be made to randomly dialed numbers. My kids quickly learned: if my phone whistled, they chimed, "Mommy, you've got email!" If they heard a podcast, they'd ask, "Are they talking in REAL LIFE?" Because even my 4-year-old began to grasp that there were two lives running parallel to one another in our house: my "phone" life and my "real" life. Ouch.
But what became clear to me, more than anything, was the reality that both girls loved my phone because I did, too. And I'd inadvertently modeled the idea of needing to use it, needing to occupy yourself within its endless trail of distraction and diversion.
The lesson was, and is, extremely simple. It's the carpe diem idea -- the "live in the here and now" concept. If I want to raise kids who can resist being addicted to their (granted, quite cool) tech gadgets, then I need to model the same restraint in their usage.
The point was again driven home when I was talking to a friend recently, in person. And said friend, in the middle of our conversation, kept glancing down at her phone. Repeatedly. It's not like I was boring her, because SHE was talking. But her attention was nonetheless divided.
It bothered me. YET -- I've done it to my kids. Not all the time, but often enough. I'd been doing it enough to convey to them that, although what they were saying might be important, what was happening on my phone was very important. And seemed to take priority. The message that I'd been sending my beloved babies was that although I enjoy them, I enjoy my phone's contents more.
Since that time, I've been diligent about limiting my iPhone usage throughout the day with my children. If I need a fix -- because let's face it, technology can be addictive -- then I wait until my little ones are napping, or out of the house, or it's after their bedtime. I began placing my phone in a cabinet, and only checking sporadically for notifications. I'll honestly admit that it wasn't an easy adaptation, and it still isn't. I had to practice restraint in order to be in the moment with my kids, instead of in the moment on Facebook. While I thoroughly enjoy all forms of social media, it's all about moderation. Balance. I still love my social media, and the people I've connected with on it. But I need to give that attention to my kids first.
I want my children to remember their childhood without envisioning a phone constantly in their mom's face. I want them to remember asking me a question and getting an answer, instead of the inevitable, "Hold on... I just need to text/type/check...." I want them to learn that while technology is obviously a prevalent and enjoyable part of their life and society at large, it's no replacement for real, live interaction with real, live people. I want them to learn to look people in the eye when they are in a conversation. I want them to look up at their surroundings, instead of down at their phones.
They've caught on to it. And thankfully, so have I.