I never thought I would be one of those parents. You know, the distracted parent, engrossed in something on their phone/tablet/laptop while their child is trying in vain to capture their attention. And then it happened. My 6-year-old son totally called me out on it.
“Mama! What is more important? Me or your phone?”
Yikes. Now, granted, my son is quite impatient when it comes to getting my attention, and I knew I hadn’t been ignoring him for an inordinate amount of time, but his words gave me instant pause.
No matter how much I tell my son I love him, if my attention is so often focused on this little gadget in my hand that he thinks it is more important to me than him, ever—well, something needs to change.
In the cold, dark, winter months it was definitely more tempting to scroll through Instagram or Marketplace when I had spare moments. It’s been a source of mental respite during long days of homeschooling and pandemic isolation with my delightful-yet-intense son. We can’t be “always on,” it’s exhausting. But as the world wakes up and summer holidays approach, I feel like it’s going to be easier to put the Google machine down and reconnect with everything around me, including connecting in more meaningful ways with my son. I don’t ever want to take his presence for granted and I certainly don’t want him to think he comes second to a machine.
I also know that kids learn profoundly from observing what their parents do, and I want him to make healthy lifestyle choices that don’t revolve around a screen. Electronics are already so alluring, I need to reinforce that there are many, many alternatives he can choose from besides passive entertainment. And to do this effectively, I need to model it myself.
So, I’m making myself a list of resolutions—ways I can cut down on my own screen time and alternative activities with which to replace it. My intention is that this summer we can create some good habits that will stick with us throughout the fall and winter.
#1: Schedule time away from my device.
I find myself wishing we had a landline again. Because then I wouldn’t have to constantly have my phone nearby for people to contact me. Out of sight, out of mind, right? However, with senior parents and a young-adult stepson with a chronic disease, I need to be reachable. And landlines are expensive. Since completely divorcing myself from the smart phone isn’t possible, I need to set (and keep) some boundaries for myself. Giving myself set hours when social media, news or Marketplace scrolling are “no-nos” sounds like a good start.
#2: Have alternative activities conveniently located.
A good portion of what I consume on my device is writing or art-related. Unfortunately, phones are a very private type of consumption—it’s hard to share what you’re looking at or reading with someone else. But if there are books, poetry, puzzles and magazines etc. lying around, chances are higher that, if I’m looking at something with interest, my son will join me.
#3: Creation vs. Consumption
I want to make more art. Be it visual, written or musical, putting down my phone will free up more time for self-expression—and hopefully model for my son that art isn’t just done in art class. We can live creatively every day and actively make meaning, rather than passively watch someone else’s products and thoughts scroll by.
#4: Spend more time in nature
Now that my son is older, he can walk further and tackle new physical challenges. During the summer, unencumbered by busy schedules, we can stretch ourselves to go on more outdoors adventures on this beautiful Island we get to call home. Beachcombing has the same mind-calming effect for me as phone-scrolling. Therefore, I should do it more! And we’ll pick up some litter while we’re at it. Even spending more time together in the garden will be a good start.
It feels like the world is getting ready to turn a page and start a new chapter. I feel confident that making these small changes in my relationship with my device will add so much to my life, my son’s life and our connection with each other. It’s so easy to zone out on our phones, but time already passes by far too quickly, and I don’t want to miss out on what is truly important because I’m staring at an electronic screen.