Almost everyone seems to have a technology goal for 2020 and for a lot of parents it is to be on their devices less and be engaged in parenting more. Screenagers recently published the following article to help encourage parents to be more mindful of parenting while distracted on a device.

Last night I felt a serious pang of remorse. My son Chase called me from college. Frankly, I assumed it was a quick check-in or perhaps an ask of some sort. I was editing footage at the time, and well I kept editing while we talked. Over the course of the call, I realized he had called to really have a solid conversation. But by the time I realized it the call was soon ending.

When we hung up, I had a pit in my stomach. I realized I was only half listening. And, on top of that, it was pretty obvious I was not fully present by the tone of my voice, the cadence of my responses. It was strange but all on its own my mind started playing back to me my exact half-hearted responses and my delayed “yeahs.” 

I miss him, and I’m kicking myself for not having pushed aside the computer mouse and focusing totally on him. I wanted to call him right back to apologize. That tends to be my usual response when I wished I had spoken or acted differently.  

Instead, I thought I would just sit with the remorse and use it as a teacher when I start doing that again. If I could take back time, I would have pushed my chair back from my editing system, put my feet up on the desk, and indulged in the interchange.

Now, that said, I am not one to go around saying we have to drop everything all the time for our kids, that we can’t be distracted ever, and that we always have to model great screen time. The truth is, as adults, our work (navigating our homes, our workplaces, our projects, etc.) is often on screens, so our use will very often be different than our kids.

But of course, we can also work on modeling certain things as best we can, like rather than be half present to try and say things like “I am on a tight deadline can I call you back later tonight.” Or, “Hey, so glad you called, let me put my computer to sleep so I can be undistracted.” I wish I had said that second line to Chase when he called …. next time.   

An international survey of over 6,000 youth aged 8 to 13 found that 32% reported feeling “unimportant” when parents used their cell phones during meals, conversations, or family time. 

Meanwhile, of course, we adults (parents, teachers, family) can feel dissed when the young people we are with are staring at a device and ignoring us or doing the 50/50 like I was doing with my son. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, there’s a funny moment when an elementary school boy tells us how he doesn’t want to come down to dinner when his mom calls him because he is too engaged in his game. He says:

“When you click on a game, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. When your mom calls you for dinner, and you’re like, ‘one second,’ and then she keeps on calling and calling you, but you just don’t go. You just keep playing because it’s so interesting. More interesting than you having dinner or helping your mom.”

Not long ago, I listened to this really good episode of the podcast, Like A Sponge, which looked at screen time and youth. One segment of the episode really got under my skin. A preschool teacher, Tara, tells the show’s host that during the first week of preschool, she has always asked a parent or other care provider to be present for a couple of hours the first week of school. She asks them to show engagement to help their children begin their journey into schooling.

Tara says that in the past, parents would really engage. But over the past five years, something changed. Now, most of the parents sit near their kids and focus on their cellphones or laptops instead. Tara’s concern was that, “They [the parents] weren’t engaging with each other or the teachers” and that the parents’ disengagement was signaling to the toddlers that school is not interesting.

That image is so sad to me. And yet, of course, there are other ways to think about the situation. One could argue that perhaps this is what is ideal for the kids—to have parents doing their own thing so that children get a message that this is their new place. They need to discover the play-objects and friends, and their parent is close in case they need them. 

I worry that the signal to the toddlers is more negative than positive. It would be ideal to have studies that looked at how those toddlers did at the school a few months later compared to toddlers at the same school before parents were on phones during that first week.