I recently spent a full hour in a doctors waiting room with my 2 young boys with nothing but a fish tank for entertainment. I’ll be honest with you. I had forgotten my phone. I am not sure how long I would have held out out before I gave in to the ‘please can we play on your phone,’ but it would have happened at some point. I am sure of that. I am also sure that an hour would not have gone by without me spending some time doing something or other on my phone. I have only been on Instagram a short while, but it has an addictive hold over me. I would have peeped at the bbc news app or read an email or two, or sent a text.
Now I love all this about my phone. The way I can access any information, play any of my music, take and edit photos, communicate with anyone from one small device that fits in my pocket, is just incredible. When I compare it to my first mobile twenty years ago, I am in awe of what my phone can do, and I don’t even have a very good one!
So, clearly, during an hour in a waiting room, plenty of screen ‘stuff’ would have been accomplished, but on this day, I discovered what would have been missed.
It was nothing remarkable. We talked about fish. . . a lot. We played eye spy. I heard some stories about school. The stories that only tend to emerge when all distractions are removed, from us both. We taught my youngest a new word. We cuddled. We ate some crackers. We watched the fish some more. It was a simple, slow hour, but a time of complete engagement, when they had my full attention and I had theirs. A rare moment of connecting in the midst of our busy lives that would have been lost behind a screen.
In her book, 7 HB, (An experimental mutiny against excess,) Jen Hatmaker says this,
“The dangerous part of our social media and technologically saturated world is not it’s existence but what it distracts us from.”
During our time in the waiting room, I saw exactly what it would have distracted us from. How much more do we miss? How many little connections with each other, with other people do we miss?
My littlest also extracted smiles and giggles from some older ladies around him, with his peekaboos and cute smiles. You know what I’m talking about. Those precious little interactions with complete strangers. They would not have happened if he had been lost in a CBeebies game.
Those moments over crackers and smiles seem small but they are what slowly build up strong relationships and communities.
Susan Maushart went screen free for a year with her family and wrote about it in her book The Winter of Our Disconnect: How One Family Pulled the Plug and Lived to Tell/Text/Tweet the Tale. It is a fascinating read and a very tempting experiment to try.
I am fully aware that our family time tends to be richer with the absence of screens. Every Easter, we spend a precious week together in a cottage in Donegal with no TV, no wifi, no screens. Just beaches and books and board games. It has become a bit of a retreat for us as a family. It is a slow, simple, quiet week which leaves us refreshed, rejuvenated and closer as a family.
But no matter how refreshing those unplugged weeks in Donegal are, we live in a world saturated with screens and social media. I think a bigger challenge for me in our wee nest is not to unplug, but to re-tune To find a balance. To find a way to make our screens work for us, not against us. We are the first generation of parents who are faced with teaching our children to manage their ‘screen time’ and I’d really like to have more conversations about that. We should share our struggles and plans so that we are not navigating this uncharted water alone.
Let’s be be intentional about this.
I want the screens in our hands to enrich our lives but not to rob us of cherishing our simple everyday moments.
I want to embrace the amazing opportunities that technology and social media provide, but also be fully aware of what we might be missing.
I don’t want to feel stressed or guilty every time my kids are in front of a screen because I know that we have created a healthy balance within our family.
I also want to acknowledge my own struggles with managing my screen time. I need to learn to resist the mindless scrolling that prevents me from being present, before I can teach my kids that kind of discipline.
I don’t want to unplug. Far from it. But I do want to make sure that we are not missing a single opportunity to make the real life person beside us smile.
Sign up here if you would like to be part of this conversation and receive any of the resources I send out.