you are not alone with your phone

I was at a community screening of "Screenagers" hosted by the Quaker school in my city. The middle schooler sitting behind me kicked my chair pretty much the whole time. I didn't care much. I was busy doing that quiet crying thing.

A friend invited me, and even though our kids are only five years old and this film focused on teenagers, I was glad we went.

I learned all sorts of distressing stuff, and maybe a very small dose of encouraging stuff. I found out that students in lots of high schools are on their phones during class and that's allowed. Which is confusing to me. 

I found out that the kind of rapid image and sound change we're exposed to via our smartphones permanently alters nerve cells that control learning and memory in developing mouse brains. Which makes me scared for developing kid brains.

I found out that 8-year-old children are feeling peer pressure about having a smartphone. Actually, I found that out after the film from my friend's friend, who has an 8-year-old. 

And I won't (for now) go into all the godawful gender-divided stuff around video games and appearance. Ouch.

Because the thing I walked away with most wasn't even the main point of the film.

I left thinking this: If we, the grown-ups, are doing a terrible job of disconnecting from our phones, rationalizing it as a special circumstance every time we pick it up during dinner/a conversation with our kids/before we even get out of bed, then how can we possibly expect the kids--who see this modeling from adults every single day--to do anything different than that?

We cannot.

We try to eat decent meals in front of our kids because of modeling. We try not to say evil shit about other people in front of our kids because of modeling. We try and fail and try again and again and again not to be jerks to our kids when we're frustrated about something unrelated to them because of modeling.

I'm convinced that this screen thing is worth trying and failing and trying again, too. Because of modeling.

But that dang phone is hard to let go. You can read the lovely Hands-Free Mama, you can take the email app off your phone, you can make rules for yourself about who/what/when/where/why, and still the siren song lures you back in and all of sudden you're standing at the kitchen counter saying "Hold ON, will you?!" to your child who is crying for some ice water you said you'd get five minutes ago before you started reading this REALLY IMPORTANT ARTICLE about the White House that your work friend sent you in a text message link.

At least, that's what happens with me.

Deep breath. I'm going to try again.

Here are some things I'm trying to help me let go (yet again). If any resonate with you, go for it. Today.

  1. I downloaded a free app for my phone that auto-responds to text messages. I can set it when I'm driving, when I'm in a meeting, when I'm hanging out with my kid. Here's what one of mine says: "Hello, my friend. I'm hanging out with my kiddo right now and trying not to be tied to my screen. I'll respond after kid bedtime. For emergencies or last minute plans, please call me."
  2. I don't take my phone into the bathroom with me. Because come on, they know that's what you've run away and shut the door to do. (I mean, besides the other thing you're in there doing.) We're not fooling them, y'all.
  3. If I need to use my phone during our time together, I tell my daughter why before I do it. Just like I would excuse myself if I were spending time with a friend and I needed to answer an urgent call or message. There are always reasonable exceptions, and in hearing myself explaining it to my kiddo, I can immediately tell whether my exception is indeed exception-worthy.

I'll leave you with this story. Because I love you, and you are not alone. Here's what happened when I told my daughter that I had installed that auto-responder for texts:    

ME: I've just put this new thing on my phone that automatically responds to text messages so that I don't have to look at them or answer them when we're having our hang-out time together.

HER: It just sends a message to people without you doing anything?

ME: Yep.

HER: What does it say?

ME: It says that I'm spending time with you and that I'll respond to them later. And it says if they have real emergency they should call me. So if someone calls me, I'll need to pay attention and answer. But otherwise, I don't need to use my phone during our Daughter-Mama time.

HER: Wow.

ME: What do you think about that?

HER: [Big smile. With dimples.] That's GREAT!

ME: What do you like about it?

HER: Well, this way, I won't have to WAIT and WAIT for you while you do something on your phone in between everything.

ME: [Humbled. Mightily. Because I know this is not the kind of waiting we all have to do in life. This is mama-fell-into-her-phone waiting.] You feel like you wait for me when I'm using my phone?

HER: Yeah, and now I won't have to WAIT and WAIT unless someone has an emergency which, you know, that makes sense.

ME: Cool.

HER: Can I have some ice water?

. . .

PS: If this is your first visit to onebrokenteapot.com: welcome! I write once a week-ish. You can subscribe here to get (free) (short) weekly essays like this one in your inbox. And you aren't required to read them on your phone in front of your child.