Our kids came of age before the possibility of endless distraction– before tablets, smartphones, in-car dvd players, and baby car-seat iPad mounts. To say we are happy that we didn’t have these options would be an understatement. We’re glad that our kids had the chance to zone out in cars and planes, and they are good at it. They both were able to handle long trips without fuss, surviving many flights to Europe (where Anghelika’s family lived) with no personal video devices at all, often ignoring the cabin screens when they were young.
One notable exception comes to mind: Dave picked mom and kids up at the airport after a 10 hour plane trip, and our 5 year old son appeared in the terminal with wild and bloodshot eyes. This was in the beginning of individual screens on airplanes, and he’d watched Ice Age over and over again from take off to landing, about six times. When we got home, he fell asleep a couple feet inside the front door.
Today the sight of kids with tablets or phones in restaurants, shopping carts, back-seats, and … well, everywhere, is common. And there’s no doubt that we parents have entered a golden age of peaceful conversations, focused work, and generally satisfying adult time. Whether its grown up conversation over dinner, work productivity, or simply a moment of silence, parents do benefit from time without questions or fussing, and our devices do a good job of capturing our kids’ attention and giving us a little of that precious time.
Recently, Anghelika saw a dad shopping in the market with his daughter, who occupied herself with a tablet in the car-shaped shopping cart. He was having a pleasant, uninterrupted shopping excursion. But what kind of interruptions was he worried about? We’re going to assume that the tablet wasn’t there so that she could catch up on her favorite shows and this was the only time in her busy schedule for her to do so. No, our guess is that dad put the tablet in her hands because he wanted her distracted. So what was he avoiding?
We think that he missed an opportunity and gained little in its place. There is really no need for a parent to have silence in the supermarket, a distraction-free experience for savoring the details of shopping without the interruptions of their child. No, the only reason to distract your child in the supermarket is because you don’t want to face the prospect of endless questions, demands or tantrums. Fair enough. We’ve all witnessed horrible conflicts in the aisles of the grocery store, if not with our own kids, then with others’. And it’s painful.
But shopping is the perfect time to engage your child and distract them with a little real life. Grocery stores are very interesting! Share your observations on popular culture. Talk about ingredients. Ask your child for their opinion. Plan menus with them. And when they (inevitably) make their strident requests for the kind of foods that adults cringe at … make a deal: tell them they can have one food item of their choice and they can change their mind as many times as they like. You will only have to buy one ridiculous food item and they will feel empowered. You can also help them choose by looking at ingredients, though that might take the fun out of it. You get the idea.
We think technology is alright. No, we think it’s great, really. But wow, it sure seems like it is becoming a crutch for tired parents. Here’s our plea: don’t replace yourself with a piece of technology. You matter to your kids, stay engaged. Share your thoughts, even if they are tired and grumpy thoughts. Get them thinking with you during the day. We do so many mindless things that we take for granted, but are wonderful teaching moments for our children. Involve them. Engage them. Let yourself be the Next Big Thing in their life. There are plenty of times when you can’t pay close attention to your child, or when you have to turn your focus away from them. Don’t miss the opportunities you do have. We should be the ones pestering our children with questions, asking them for help with all the mundane questions we face a hundred times a day. And when they have tired of all our questions, that’s the perfect moment to let them have a little screen time!