Yesterday, I spent almost 90 minutes at the playground with my son, watching as he raced around with friends old and new, pretending to be a superhero, playing impromptu games of tag, and participating in climbing competitions and slide-caravans.
He knew I was there, and occasionally sought me out if there was a conflict or he wanted a drink, but otherwise he didn't need me much.
So I scrolled Twitter and checked Facebook and sent a few emails and texts.
This makes me a bad parent?
Back in March, an article on Time.com suggested that using your smartphone while parenting forces your kids to compete for your attention and makes you resent them when they interrupt you. To support this thesis, Time leaned on a "study" by some "doctors" who went undercover (seriously?) to spy on parents and their children in the wild, i.e., at a fast-food restaurant.
What did they see?
"One child reached over in an attempt to lift his mother's face while she looked down at a tablet, but to no avail. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child's various attempts to get her attention while she looked at her phone. A father responded in curt and irritated tones to his children's escalating efforts to tear him away from his device."
That doesn't sound like a smartphone problem. That sounds like a "those parents are assholes" problem.
If you kick your kid when she wants your attention (or ever), or your son needs to physically force you to look at him, or you feed them McDonald's on a regular basis, your phone isn't the issue. If your kid wants your attention, you give it to him, case-closed. If your phone is getting in the way of that, you ditch it, at least for the time being. It's called moderation.
I admit I use my phone too much sometimes, but I do my best to not let it come at the expense of my son, and if he ever grabbed my face because I was ignoring him (as opposed to the way he grabs it because he's a tyrant and wants a snack), I would be forced reevaluate some things.
But parents are people too. We have lives outside of our kids and we're allowed to indulge in those lives a little bit, especially if it's when our kids are having a blast, getting their ya-yas out and exercising their independence in a safe, enclosed environment.
Except we're not, if you believe this article, that says parents' cell phone use at the playground is to blame for an increase an injured children. Give me a break.
The playground can be something of an oasis for parents too. Finally, a secure place where your kid can have fun and burn some energy without requiring your constant interaction. But have you ever taken a child to the playground? It's BORING AS FUCK. If you didn't have a phone, you'd spend that time be chatting with other parents, or daydreaming about that DILF in the Dolphins hat pushing his kid on the swings. So let's not vilify smartphones; they didn't invent kids getting hurt.
When kids get hurt, it's usually because they're kids - reckless, stupid kids - not because the latest level of Candy Crush prevented you from catching him as he plummeted off the monkey bars.
It's a wonder they ever stay upright, running with their heads always a good half-foot in front of their feet; it always looks like they're about topple over and smash their oblivious little faces into the concrete. And on the blessedly rare occasions that that happens, it ain't your phone's fault.
If you spend your entire life staring at your kid and making sure he doesn't get physically hurt, that makes you a helicopter parent, which means you're probably hurting him in other ways. And I don't know about you, but my son doesn't want me hovering over him when he's playing with his friends.
He's a solid four-and-a-half years old, and he's pretty self-sufficient, on the playground and elsewhere (this presumably includes fast-food restaurants, though I can't remember the last time we've actually stepped inside one - we use the drive-thru). Once in a while he'll need me to help him down from someplace he should never have climbed in the first place, but otherwise I'm largely superfluous.
Half the time I'm with my son, I'm relegated to the sidelines, a bystander there almost solely in case of emergency. In the meantime? I use my phone. It's a distraction from boredom, not from my son (although God knows I could use that once in a while too!). If he needs me, I put it down.
The ability to use your phone when your kid is at the playground or otherwise amusing yourself is a blessing, and even something of a milestone. When you finally get to the point that you can take your eyes off your him for a few minutes without stressing out, when you can be reasonably secure that he won't injure himself if you look away? Congratulations! You've earned those few minutes checking Twitter. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty about it.
Especially if you're reading my timeline.
Read more from Mike Julianelle on Dad and Buried.