A bizarre thing happened to me recently. There I was, alone in the house, when I heard sobbing coming from the lounge. I must admit it freaked me out. I thought I had forgotten to take one of the kids to school or maybe one of their creepy dolls was about to embark on a murderous rampage.
But when I investigated I found my smartphone on the sofa, crying.
‘What’s up little fella?’ I asked, picking it up and perching it on my lap.
‘E-e-e-everyone hates me,’ it cried.
‘That’s not true,’ I said, giving it a little wipe, but it didn’t believe me. After all, it was my smartphone and it knew all the articles I had been reading recently. You know the ones: those that focus on the importance of parents being PRESENT and guilting them into PUTTING THEIR PHONE DOWN and all that. My poor smartphone obviously thought it’s days were numbered.
But it was wrong.
Smartphones have become so entrenched in our family’s life that it is now probably impossible to untangle the two. But the thing is I wouldn’t want to – they have changed our household for the better.
Screens are here to stay
So what makes my smartphone so special that I would happily pick it up and use it as opposed to constantly interacting with my kids?
Well for a start: I use it to check schedules and updates for my kids’ activities; I pay bills; I check my kids’ progress at school and nursery and can contact their teachers from it; I send cute pictures to the grandparents; I can communicate with friends and family quickly when I don’t have the time to faff around with a phone call; I book tickets for the summer camping; I can stream the kids’ favourite music to our wireless speaker; I can write this blog post; I can even play Minecraft with my son while he plays on a different device.
Why would I want to make any of this harder?
I won’t pretend that I don’t do other, ‘less productive stuff’ on my mobile phone too. I still check football scores. I still scroll through social media. I still chuckle at silly memes. But for me, the good far outweighs anything else.
But crucially, my kids benefit too: They can watch videos on YouTube and learn how to make things; They can learn phonics; They can complete puzzles; They can practise maths and coding; They can FaceTime with their grandparents and cousins; They can scroll through hundreds of family photos and reminisce about days out and holidays; They can learn their timetables; They can stream their favourite music to our wireless speaker; They can even play Minecraft with their dad while he plays on a different device.
‘So you see, little guy, you’re EXTREMELY useful,’ I said and my phone seemed to cheer up a little. ‘You bring us together as a family more than you separate us.’
‘But… people want you to put me down!’ my smartphone protested. ‘They want to come between us!’
‘Well, I’m not going to lie,’ I began. ‘People think screens consume our lives to the point where parents ignore their kids and leave them to roam the streets alone searching for scraps of food. Or something.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ chirped my smartphone.
‘I know!’ I said. ‘It’s like people think my kids are incapable of existing without me getting involved.’
My kids do not need constant attention
Believe it or not, kids actually have brains in their heads and feet in their shoes and they can steer themselves any direction they choose. Now that mine are older they are also fully capable of entertaining themselves and should be encouraged to do so at every available opportunity.
Thinking back to when I was young (a now distant world before mobile phones, tablets, and video games), I don’t remember constantly interacting or playing with my parents. I made my own fun with my own toys.
When my dad came home from work he would often read the newspaper and watch the news. I don’t remember anyone urging parents to put newspapers down or complaining that they watch too much news. My dad wouldn’t quiz me about my day, but he was still there. He was still present if I needed him.
Don’t beat yourself up
There is a darker undercurrent to the ‘put your phone down’ slogans which suggest that all parents are addicted to smartphones and our kids are suffering as a result.
If you feel addicted to your smartphone, or that your family life is being adversely affected, obviously do something about it. There is advice and guidance is available online. But don’t judge other parents on their screen usage. Don’t encourage people to put their phones down because you think they should or because a patronising Vodafone ad campaigns tells you to.
Parenting can often be isolating – especially when parenting alone. We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for wanting to keep a window to the rest of the world open, to perhaps feel like more than just a parent all the time.
Don’t feel forced to put your phone down to make someone outside of your family happy. Don’t beat yourself up about doing stuff for you on your smartphone rather than playing Lego with your kids or quizzing them about what they don’t remember doing at school. Don’t feel bad because you need to do work or check plans online rather than make plasticine animals with your toddler. Find a balance that works for you. It doesn’t mean you love your kids any less.
‘So you’re not going anywhere, anytime soon,’ I told my smartphone and it finally stopped weeping.
‘I feel better now I’ve got that out of my system,’ it mumbled.
And so it should (until my next contract upgrade anyway…).