Merriam- Webster defines being present as being “at a particular place or event”. One of the terms listed as obsolete is attentive. That speaks volumes. There was a time when being present physically and being attentive to the goings on were synonymous. Sadly, in today’s society the pervasiveness of “me time”, technology addictions and constant alternatives to being attentive to your present location means that these things do not often accompany one another anymore.
I am overwhelmed by the number of times we go out as a family and see other families doing the same, except completely different. They are in the same place but Mom is on her phone, Dad is watching a tv, and the kids are on a device of some form. There is little to no interaction.
*Now let me pause here to state that I do no think children need interacted with all the time, leaving them to play alone in their room with only their imagination for company for as long as they can on a very regular, dare I say daily, basis is highly recommended. However, there is also time for them to be with their parents, to interact and engage. Especially when they are small. I also understand that sometimes you have been with them alllll day or alll week and you are exhausted and need a little break but that’s the exception not the rule so i’m doubtful when I go out and see 85% of the parents completely checked out from their kids that all 85% were fully engaged most of the time, if you are truly the exception you won’t take offense to this article knowing that “that one time I did that I had been parenting so stellarly all week that I needed a minute to myself” means i’m not talking about you.*
Children crave your attention and support and love and if they don’t get it from you they will be left lacking until they are old enough that indeed they can get it from someone else, most likely the first person to offer it no matter who that is.
Yesterday, as my husband and I took turns playing in the indoor playground with our 3 year old son and holding our 7 month old daughter we noticed a pattern. I went in and an adorable toddler and her sister immediately began asking to play with us, hold my hand or hug me. Why did these little girls want hugs from a strange woman they did not know? What did they see in me that they wanted? A mom that was hugging, chasing, and laughing with her child. Because their own mom came in, bought their wristbands, and plopped down on a couch to stare at her phone for at least the 2 hours we were there. She was still in the same position when we left. I never saw her even glance at her children much less check on them, play with them or interact with them. Her daughters were clearly used to being ignored as they didn’t seek attention from her, instead they tried to glue themselves to the first adult female they could.
The pattern held on my husband’s turns to play, a little preschool boy who had ignored my son “Jidge” when he was playing with me or playing alone suddenly needed to play with him. The little boy tried to pull my husband by the hand, came around the corner (out of sight of his own dad) where our bags were when we needed to get something for the baby and proceeded to try and touch and love on our baby or get attention from my husband. His dad was there but he was very busy trying to look tough and cool at the kiddy playground. He checked his phone, sighed, and stared around with disgust at wasting his time, when he wasn’t flirting with the teenage workers. All very important. More important than playing with his child, or keeping track of his child for that matter.
This is becoming normal now, everywhere we go we notice that we are in the minority as we play with our children, sit at tables and actually talk to them with no digital devices around. But we also notice that we gather a pile of children everywhere we go who see parents that are freely giving out the attention they so desire so they hop in line.
An ipad can not give your child attention. It can not make them feel loved. It will not teach them patience as they wait for food to come out at a restaurant the way good old fashioned conversation will. Unplug a little. Your phone and tablets and laptops have places, they really do! Right now I type this as my son has his morning playtime and my baby sleeps in my lap, I am watching him play school with his toy dinosaurs and he doesn’t need me, in fact he doesn’t want me, when he catches me looking to long he says “Mama, i’m playing don’t watch me”. I am giving my laptop attention right now, but I am not choosing it over giving my child attention they desire.
Make it a goal to engage your children fully when you take them places this week. Don’t use playgrounds or pools or arcades or whatever summer fun you have planned as a babysitter. Use it is a date! A date with your child. Talk to them, learn about their interests, laugh, make memories, I promise you they want it more than you know and someday that won’t be so true.
(P.S. While I am on my soapbox this goes for your spouse too. If you are out together put the phones away for the most part. Check that text if you need (esp. if you have sitter 😉 ) but then put it down. Those little letters on the screen aren’t going anywhere.)