My fiancé (Jon) and I were at the dog park last week and on the way we walked past a playground. As we walked by, he turned to me and pointed out just how many of the parents (moms and dads) were on their cell phones, texting, talking, “Facebooking”, or “Instagramming”; and, as a result, not paying attention to their kids.
I’m not saying this is any indication of their parenting skills or daily involvement in their children’s lives, but Jon looked at me and said, “when we have kids, I’ll never be like that.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I have already been like that.
I worked in daycare for two years, and while they had a strict “no phone” policy, the summers I spent nannying afterwards didn’t. I loved (and still do) the kids I worked with and truly enjoyed my time with them, but constantly having to “make believe” gets draining. I could only hear, “Miss Alex, look at this!” and “no, say this!” while playing Lego, dolls, and house so many times before I was all out of original and creative ideas.
I’ll admit there were times it was easier to just nod “yes” without really hearing what they were so excited to tell or show me. Trips to the park became my salvation. I could send them off to play on the slide, or with other children, while I feverishly checked my Facebook newsfeed every five minutes.
I was plugged in. And it wasn’t until my phone broke and I was forced to use my pre-app flip phone that I realized how immensely it was affecting my ability to engage.
The first week was hard. I had to fight the urge to check my phone constantly, and even worse was the aching feeling that I wasn’t aware of what was going on with my friends or family every single minute.
After the initial longing for Wi-Fi compatibility wore off,I began to realize that playtime with my kiddies was becoming more enjoyable and fun. I was able to put aside my phantom need to be connected with the outside world, and focus on connecting with the people, three lovely children, around me. Without that fear of missing something (seemingly vitally important) on Facebook, I was able to project that wasted energy towards making the day interesting and creative.
Removing the temptation of being able to take a video or photo and post it to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook also opened up a whole new world of awareness.
When I was little, there was a running joke in my family that I was going to grow up thinking my dad was a video camera, since all I ever saw of him was his face behind the machine. No one can blame a dad for wanting to capture all the adorable moments, but by trying to capture every moment to relive it, you end up missing it while it’s happening.
I began taking (a few) photos with a digital camera and sharing them with the family instead of everyone on my “friends” list. I was present, I was relaxed, all the things I had previously missed captivated me, and I loved it.
Unplugging allowed a plethora of imaginative and inspired ideas to flood out of me, and creative play didn’t seem too long or mentally draining anymore. My attention was refocused onto what was important.
I have never seen kids as happy as when I put my phone down and gave all of myself into that dance routine or pirate ship adventure. I’m also happier when I don’t have to worry about checking my phone for updates.
As a rule, I still only take my phone out during naptime, downtime, emergencies, or as a reference when I am working with children. And, every so often, I enjoy the feeling of being unplugged in my adult life too.
I recommend this challenge to anyone who has kids, works with kids, or just wants to become fully immersed in a moment of their own lives. Select a set time to check your Facebook and use your apps and don’t check it until then. Your peace-of-mind will thank you.