This is not the post I had planned, but as an avid blog follower/facebooker/tweeter, I would be remiss, I feel, if I did not address the controversy currently seizing my online circle. It seems that this Parents on Phones tumblr has touched a nerve with the iPhone set. Of which I am a member.
So, the idea behind Parents on Phones is apparently a sort of amateur gotcha journalism project, wherein the writer/photographer surreptitiously documents parents ignoring their kids in order to text/call/email/read blogs on their phones. Fine. Some of them are kind of funny, and some of them are a little depressing. The captions are at best mildly funny. Yet, this thing has generated self-righteous rage among smartphone using mommies and daddies. The objections are probably best stated by David Plotz of Slate. In his post on the subject, he argues that:
1) Smartphones allow high-powered working parents to interact with their children MORE because they can work from anywhere, not just the office.
2) Kids should be allowed to play on their own and should not be incessantly entertained by their helicopter parents.
3) Parents have always ignored their children, it’s just that reading the newspaper has been supplanted by reading Slate on a smartphone.
This is very ingenious, because he is absolutely correct on all three scores. But I’m afraid he’s deeply disingenuous on the details. Here’s why:
On the first count, we have seen this in our own family. When my husband was working at a big giant law firm, yoked to the whim of his self-centered clients, there were many evenings, weekends, and family vacations in which he was able to participate solely because his clients could reach him anywhere via his Blackberry, and he could login to his network at 11pm and work for several hours while the kids were playing or sleeping or whatever. So yes, technology has unchained professionals from their desks. But there is a big difference between setting aside a few hours for work on a Saturday afternoon and spending the ENTIRE weekend with an iPhone strapped to your waist, having a Pavlovian reaction to its every beep. (We have also seen this first hand in our family). Maybe I’m wrong, but there are very few people with jobs so life and death important that they can’t even set the damn phone down for suppertime. If you are a pediatric brain surgeon on call at suppertime, you receive a pass.
On the second count, yes. Absolutely this is 100% true. So send your kids off to play on the monkey bars without you spotting them. Read your favorite blog while they build a block tower at the children’s museum, and check your email while they listen to a book at library story time. But don’t strap your kid in a baby swing and then stand there texting. If you put your kid in a swing she can’t get out of, push the damn swing! Letting your kids problem solve on their own, and get bored and then get unbored, and make friends and play dangerous games with sharp sticks is all very important and you should do it. So send your kids outside or away and go text/email/call. Being put in a swing and then not having anyone push you is lame. The fact is, no one will be taking your picture and putting it on a Parents On Phones tumblr if your kids are happily playing off in a sandbox while you sit on a shady park bench texting. Or if they do, then they are insufferable, smug jerks about whom you should not care.
On the third count, yes again. I, for one, am a professional child ignorer. I do not play board games with them, I do not play on the playground with them, I do not play action figures or legos with them. I only do things Ilike to do with them. Which is basically read and hike. If we go to the beach, I give them shovels and buckets and then distantly supervise them while I read a magazine, or check my email on my phone, or read blogs. I make them go out in the yard and stand around and hit each other with sticks or whatever so I can go post to my own blog. Kids do need to learn to venture forth and play on their own, and parents need to maintain independent lives and interests. But the thing that makes smartphones different from a newspaper is that the ENTIRE internet is on that phone, and it’s always notifying you of things–things you like! Things that are more interesting than pushing a kid on a swing. Parenting is stultifying most of the time, so I get it; the phone is tempting! And it would take more willpower than most of us possess to ignore an email from a witty, interesting friend and instead listen to your three year old sing Old McDonald. So you really have to just turn the phone off sometimes. Just sometimes. Suppertime would be a good start.
I read some good advice about blogging that applies to phones too: Go on your computer; read lots of stuff/blogs/sites you love. Then, shut off the computer and go do something. When you get back, blog about it.
No one’s asking David Plotz or anyone else to give up his iPhone, or leave it off all the time, or even most of the time. Just pick some things you think are worth paying attention to, and turn off the phone for those things. And when you’re done, tweet about your self-restraint. I’ll retweet you right away; after all, I’ll probably be ignoring my kids.