Perhaps I should have seen it coming. My 5-year-old son and I were getting on our bicycles, preparing to take a leisurely ride down the road, when he gave me an ultimatum.
“Dad, don’t get on your phone one bit.”
A dozen things entered my mind. Can I go 30 minutes without looking at my iPhone? What if, during one of our stops, I want to check my email or look at the latest news on Twitter, or even open the Weather Channel app when I see that dark cloud on the horizon?
“OK,” I said.
So for 30 minutes we rode down the road, had a pleasant time, and I survived.
Humans always have had distractions from the more important things in life, but I sometimes wonder if smartphones — through the marvel of technology – have compiled every distraction into one handy handheld device. They’re tiny portals into the entire world, with a seemingly infinite amount of possibilities.
That TV show or sports team or music group you loved years ago, that you thought was an addiction? That was nothing. There was an end to it — to the TV series, the sports season or the CD. Eventually it got old. It didn’t go on and on and on. Not so with social media and the Internet. Friends always are posting. New apps always are being introduced. Hilarious and bizarre videos always are being captured. And that TV show or sports team or music group you were addicted to years ago? They’re all on there, too.
Whatever your hobby or craze or temptation, the iPhone or Android phone is right there, ready to help. I am a news editor and writer, so mine is current events.
Smartphones are that wardrobe from the C.S. Lewis books and films: There’s good and plenty of bad, and before you know it, you’ve spent hours in another world. For inquisitive people like me, they’re amazing. And addicting.
I’m beginning to ask myself more and more often: Do I have to know everything about everything, right then and there? Should I give every person in the world the right to interrupt my life at any moment of the day? The answer to those, of course, is “no,” but there’s another one that I also have to ask: Can it wait? To that, I’m beginning to answer “yes.”
I’m learning I need to set more limits on my usage. Here, then, are six reasons I want to use my iPhone less and less around my kids:
1. It’s what my son wants. His two younger siblings probably do, too, but they aren’t talking yet. And I’m sure my oldest son isn’t the only child in the world like this. No, every second with my children isn’t a Hallmark precious moment, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few while staring at that tiny screen.
2. I don’t want to raise children addicted to technology. By that, I mean I want to set a better example. Children do everything that we emulate. If we stare at our iPhone or Android phone all the time when we’re around our children, there’s a good chance they’ll do the same, too, someday. Our society, after all, already is a slave to the latest technological gadgets. I don’t want my kids to remember their father as the one who stared at his smartphone while at the kitchen table, at the couch and on the mower.
3. It allows me to devote my full attention to my children. This seems obvious, but when I’m on my phone, I’m not involved with my kids. And even when I’m not physically on my smartphone, I still might be tempted to think about that unanswered email or that breaking news alert, and not being mentally engaged in the moment. If I choose ahead of time that I’m not going to be on my phone, my mind is ready to think of topics of conversation — like birds and worms, or planes and trains (my oldest son is 5, after all).
4. I won’t regret it. Smartphones as we know them are only six years old, but I doubt any of us will get to the end of our lives and say, “If I could do it all over again, I’d spend more time on my iPhone. And post more stuff on Facebook.” My children are all 5 and under. I’m living in the days that I’ll later treasure.
5. Because iPhones are addictive. Sure, I’ve had 15-second sessions on my smartphone, but I’ve also had 15-second sessions that turned into 5- and 10- and 30-minute stints. That’s the nature of social media and the Internet. There’s always something you didn’t know, and you didn’t know you didn’t know it until you logged on. Pretty soon, the 15-second session to find out if my cousin had her baby turns into a YouTube fest because my friend sent me this great video — you just have to see it — of this 2-year-old kid making these wild basketball shots that no 2-year-old has ever made. Apps nowadays literally are advertising their product as being “addictive” and a great “time-waster.” No thanks.
Blog post continues below video.
6. Because it’s good discipline. In the Christian life, it’s wise to deprive ourselves of earthly things we really, really want, like usage of the iPhone or the Android phone when we’re around our kids. As I type this, I really, really want a pizza — and lots of football on TV. Neither, though, are good for me in the quantities I desire. As Christians, we should work to reshape our sinful nature so that we no longer strive for earthly things, but eternal things (Colossians 3:2). We are to really, really want Christ.
Of course, the iPhone has benefited my family life in many ways. There are times I can play outside with my kids or can go somewhere with my family only because I have an iPhone. I don’t have to stay at the laptop, waiting for that important email. Those times won’t change. But in other instances, I hope to act differently.
Also, I don’t want to judge other parents when I’m out in public. Perhaps that mom with the three kids at McDonald’s really does need to be on her smartphone. Or maybe she just needs a break from a stressful day. It’s none of my business.
I only can speak for myself, as a father and an iPhone junkie. But I’m sure there are other parents who agree.
What do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list or topic? Let me know in the comments below.
Consider This Before Judging the Mom on Her Smartphone (by Heather at the Raising Mighty Arrows blog.)
Charting the new digital engagement: the Gospel and your iPhone (by Boice College professor Owen Strachan at SBTS.edu.)
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).
Excellent and timely article.
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Great article and love the 6 points! You are exactly right with so many things. I have made a goal not to talk on the phone in the vehicle when my son is in there and to really limit my phone calls of any length to his nap or nighttime bed. Thanks for the encouragement and reminders!
Thanks, Cara! And those are great goals in relation to the phone. I like your idea!
Great article! It’s such a timely message for many individuals, parents or not, whether we choose to admit it or not. Thanks for linking to our similar post!
Thanks! I really enjoyed your post as well.
I’m a huge fan of your blog Thoughts on Raising a Christian Family, and I also really connected with your article about smartphone addiction. After I read your article, I realized my whole family had a major iPhone problem, myself included.
I feel the worst about my youngest son, who’s 5. I limit his screen time the most but I found myself wanting to check out and check my phone the most while I was with him. I thought he didn’t really need me for little things, like Legos, and I could check Facebook while he played. But he started to resent the time I was taking from him, and began acting out. It was only little things, like pretending not to hear me when I asked him to pick up his toys or eat a few pieces of broccoli, but it was a real issue.
Eventually I realized his behavior was a response to my iPhone addiction, and I spoke with a therapist friend of mine. Among other things, she recommended this book, “Beyond Texting” that deals with better communication in general. Your article and this book really opened my eyes and helped me be a more “in the moment” and aware parent. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story and thought I would share something that helped me as well.
Thanks, Catherine! It is a constant battle for all of us. 🙂
I should’ve added to my previous commen: It’s quite humbling to know that blog impacted you. Thanks for sharing it with me, and thanks for the kind words!