I am certainly guilty of being not present when my presence was required. Certainly this socially rude behavior is often excused away depending on the circumstance. For many of us who work in social media we are required and encouraged to be always “on” and engaged with our audiences. So while we sit at a conference table attending an important meeting, we might be given a hashtag so that we can help the conference trend on Twitter during the meeting.
However, there is a difference being distracted because work actually encourages it, and being distracted because you can’t break free of the technology to be in the moment. A recent Wall Street Journal article addressed the rising accident rate among small children that seems to be happening in direct correlation of an increase in phone usage by the adults in their lives (The Perils of Texting While Parenting). While technology can be advantageous to connect us with family members who live states away, the overuse of digital communication is perhaps creating a digital danger instead. Certainly I want to be able to capture a moment by using the technology that rests in the palm of my hand, but the moment I connect with my tech I’ve lost a connection with the actual moment I wanted to capture. The real time moment has now become a text, a tweet, or a post. And while I’m busy reading and reviewing other’s moments, my children are missing me even though I’m standing right next to them.
And it just isn’t that we are so distracted that we put our children in harm’s way, it is that we cannot put down our technology long enough to actually be present with our family. For example, when we go out to eat the “tech is turned off.” This includes any electronic gaming systems as well. But if I get out my phone, for any reason at all mind you, then my children immediately point out the hypocrisy of my actions. I’m telling them to be part of the family, to have conversations, to make eye contact, to be respectful of their fellow diners…but I’m not behaving in a way that shows that my words have weight. I’m not walking the talk. And our children learn by watching us, and if they notice that we don’t notice, maybe they behave in a way that tries to get us to notice them. And then accidents happen.
So part of me wonders if accident rates among children are up because parents (or caregivers) are so busy looking up their daily horoscope or updating a status or sending a tweet, or is it just that children have become greater risk takers because we live in a culture that encourages (or celebrates) extreme behavior? Is a parent any less distracted at a park or other social setting when they have a book to read, or are busy socializing with other parents?
Whether it’s the tech in an adult’s hands or engaging in face-to-face time with other adults, these adults are not engaging with their children. They aren’t being in the moment, a moment that will pass all too quickly. They aren’t being “mindful” as parents about what they should be minding. And I’ve fallen into that tech trap with all of my children, so tuned into my emails or even a text conversation, that I’ve missed part of the debate, part of the track meet, or missed where my youngest is at the park altogether. And even though it was but a moment and nothing tragic occurred, no apology on my part makes up for missing a moment that carried significance and value to my children.
So, let’s put our tech away and be present. Be conscious of the example you set and of the message you convey. Be in the moment with them instead of capturing the moment on your phone. Be mindful about the space around you and the imprint you want to make. Turn it off and tune in, because all our children want of us is to know they are the priority when we share our time. Don’t let the digital become a digital divide.
What’s your opinion? We’d love to hear from you.