Friday, July 1, 2011

Parents Should Unplug Too!

(as seen in the 6/28/11 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

I love my Blackberry. I carry a laptop. My family owns gaming systems, DVD and mp3 players as well and have downloaded dozens of apps. When I say the word "screen" in a conversation with my parents they think I'm talking about the netting on my window that keeps out bugs. But to my children "screen" could mean any one of our electronic gadgets or television sets. Talk about a generation gap!

Recently while traveling we stopped off at a fast food restaurant for a bathroom break and a bite to eat. As I entered the establishment I took a quick survey looking for the restrooms. I immediately located my target but not before noticing a woman sitting in a booth with her food and an open laptop.

Isn't it great all the establishments that are offering customers free WiFi access? You see, I get a kick out of  working lunches. I can socialize with my colleagues and simultaneously knock out some work. Multitasking done rightl is one of my favorite things on the planet!!

I was, however, quickly saddened as I observed this lap-topped woman. She was sitting with two young boys and while she was typing away on her keyboard they were silently eating their food and fingering their kid’s meal prize. There was no conversation. There was no interaction and no eye contact. The only thing they had in common was the fact that they were gathered around the same table. They all looked kind of ...........pathetic.

I became curious as to what the woman was feverishly working on. I wondered what could be so important that she couldn’t even look up from her screen. Was she a writer working on a climactic chapter? Could she be in email negotiations for a promotion? Maybe she was paying bills online. I decided I just had to know what she was up to. So after collecting my food I planned to strategically walk past her table and sneak a peak at her screen.

My heart pounded as I went out of my way feigning an exit. Why was I feeling so uncharacteristically nosy? Were my shenanigans obvious? Why was I so bothered with this stranger’s attention on her computer?
There was no mistaking the classic blue and white pattern on her screen. It was Facebook. She was logged into social media enraptured with virtual conversations. She was ignoring the people (were those her sons?) in her immediate environment for an alternate reality.

And as appalled as I was at her behavior I was even more disheartened at a painful truth; she could have been me. I've ignored my children when my Blackberry blinks. I've half listened to other people's stories so I can update my status. I read emails while pretending to carry on a conversation. I've put up screens between me and the faces of my children. The truth is I saw in that woman what I look like and I was mortified.

You can tweet, Facebook, text or email me. You can comment on my blog, leave me a voice message and messenger me. Which begs the question: Have I really made it easier for you to get my attention than I have for my own kids? God help me if I’ve allowed social media to take precedence over the real people and real relationships in my real time life.

First and foremost we can create better habits by setting down our devices. Power it down or put the phone away. Break the need to carry it with you twenty-four/seven. Stop narcissistically staring at it to see if it's beeping or blinking. And if that's too much of a stretch for you, at least begin by setting it down when your children are talking to you. Literally put it down and turn your body to face the person who needs your attention.

If you work on a computer like I do it’s a good idea to practice removing your hands from the keyboard when someone requires your attention. I am pretty good at looking like I am listening but the truth is I’m usually faking it. I can't fully comprehend what you are saying when my fingers are flying across the keyboard. If you are genuinely at risk of losing an important thought during an interruption finish the sentence you are typing by all means but as soon as you get to the period pick up your fingers and look at the person who's speaking to you.

Honest to goodness as I typed these very words your reading my six-year-old daughter approached me and asked me to read aloud to her from a library book. If I’m brutally honest I’ll admit that I didn’t want to stop writing and read to her. I have deadlines after all. But what is more important my screen or my child? Which is more valuable my work or my little work in progress?

In this day and age screens are everywhere. We have access to more information than ever and it can be quite addicting (Blackberrys aren’t nicknamed Crackberrys for no reason, you know). But let us not loose sight of what is real and what is really important. Don't allow the blinks, dings and status updates to take precedence in the real world. If you're virtual world ever becomes more important to you than a lunch date with your child you need to unplug quick. Because a happy meal ain't happy if they have to share it with a screen. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

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