My husband David wrote a pretty convincing rant about why he’s allowed to neglect our children in order to check his phone. I’ve heard his line about parents not being “entertainment systems” for their children before. I actually don’t mind when he sits propped up in our son’s bed playing Scramble With Friends for half an hour after their bedtime with all the lights on, because then they learn that daddy also gets sucked into the screen and the next time he yells at them for playing half an hour too much of Wii they have some pretty good ammunition to throw back at him.
But here’s the truth of it: The vast majority of the time parents (and it’s usually dads, moms tend to have more shame about this) check their phones during kid events it’s just out of a sense of self importance or at best a nervous tic. Let’s be honest: Most of those emails and phone calls can wait an hour until you get back to the office, or even, God forbid, a whole day. I have seen dads check their phones once a minute through their kids' birthday parties and piano recitals and ball games. I have seen dads sit on a bench at a playground for hours staring at phones, ON A SUNDAY. My friend will never live down the day she missed her son’s only basket because she was checking her phone during a game.
As my colleague Bill writes: “For kids of a certain age I sometimes think it’s better for them if dad or mom misses the game altogether rather than have them half there or a quarter there, constantly checking email or making work calls. And if you’re under deadline or in a work crisis situation and the e-mails can’t wait, maybe you should stay home chained to your computer and spare your kid the disappointment of being at the game but missing his game-tying goal because you were ‘just taking care of a few work emails.’ ”
My problem with all this phone checking is not that the kid will feel neglected or unloved or think that email is more important than they are. That’s obviously nonsense. It’s that the kids get a pretty lame view of what the adult world, and what the adult work world is like. From a kid’s perspective, an adult staring at a phone looks dead-eyed and enslaved, much as toddlers playing on iPads look to their parents. It seems as if the world is set up in such a way that when you grow up, you can never actually have fun or be present in what you’re doing or get away from the boss. It must be odd to a kid, in fact, to see an adult so transfixed by a tiny machine all the time. So go ahead and neglect your kids if you want, but how about doing it by doing something more interesting, like talking to another grownup or bouncing a ball or reading a newspaper.
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