It’s the last official week of summertime around here. My babies love school and are eager about the beginning; it’s me nursing an increasingly bigger pit in my stomach as summer wanes and September nears. While my boys grow up I feel like I see more clearly the ways summertime affords juicy glimpses into the innocence of childhood. This summer I watched these little boys stay in their jammies past noon and watched as they dabbled in stories and books, make believe, competition, mindless daydreaming, Lego-building, risk-taking, and an earnest growing concern about safety in the world. To me the collection of those interests feels so earnest and utterly serene. Summertime is just slower.
I crave the de-clutter of long days without so much chaos. Without the stresses that the school schedule ushers in, the summertime-alarm-clock-free space lends priority to an actual circadian rhythm. We eat better, the days are less driven by rule following. I think we might laugh more. Less time spent rushing and shuttling from one thing to the next and more time listening. A lot more time goofing off. I mean my 8 year-old ran into my room first thing this morning in a cape! What life (with children) is ultimately about.
As this summer, in particular, wraps up I’m also recognizing with increasing fortitude the peril we’re under because of technology in our lives.
Nothing new or profound but I really feel it right now, more than ever. My work over the past years with The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communication and Media has shaped the study on device-use as a station in my work, but it’s my role as a mother that screams out louder in me right now. We could really mess this up. Not our kids, per se, I just mean how we all experience this precious gift.
We spend a lot of time worrying about and tweaking our children’s media use. Yes, we can and should make use a media use plan to help guide how our children use devices (literally you can plug in a plan together here and print it out for the fridge) but at some point we have to think on how we grown-ups cherish our days, too. How technology will rob us of what we adore.
As the next decade unfolds, devices will only get better at grabbing ahold of us. We have to admit a frailty inherent in us; we need to practice being off our devices. Practice it, every day, like a craft. I think this is a new part of being human.
The piece in The Atlantic earlier this summer, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation, brought the threats of iGen tech use into an even newer, national focus. The thesis, in case you’ve not yet read it, is that teens are unhappier than ever, the author argues, since the iPhone hit stores. Smartphones have changed how we all live and think and love and connect and teens have more anguish because of it. I know there is ongoing suffering from device-use. There is, of course, also a profundity of ways devices build convenience and safety and social justice and intimacy in our lives. But a couple recent experiences where my own son had to tug on my sleeve to pull me away from a device made me feel basically just horrifically horrible. I was as gone to my phone as you can imagine. And after a couple summertime device Mom-fails I’m happy to re-invent how I improve at this. My earnest distraction wed to the accelerating feeling of the dwindling sand-in-the-hourglass time with my boys (before they leave home) motivates. I want to use this smartphone smarter. Wouldn’t it feel awesome to be great at this?
So how about this tiny tweak…
One Hour In Airplane Mode Every Day. A Tiny Tweak
I spent last week with my phone in airplane mode all day. I checked in quickly here or there and for little squalls of media in the evening, but the bulk of the days were left untethered. It wasn’t a full digital sabbatical, which for me was practical and less distracting. Sure, I know some of you can be a hero parent and not touch your phone after 5pm. And maybe you’re already good at putting your devices away, as are your children. We do#devicefreedinner and my boys are limited with their media use, but I’m thinking about fully protecting random other hours, too. Practically speaking, I want to think on finding one hour, every single day, to put my phone in airplane mode. We can untether ourselves. Make a new habit. Stop the rush and make a beep or a call an impossible interruption. Just be around for the goofing off. Bring summer all the way into the depths of December, every single day. Practice the art of one hour offline and out of earshot daily. Join me?
Dave Chase says
Great piece, Wendy Sue. We just returned last night from moving our eldest into her dorm. While we enjoy her Snaps as we become somewhat SnapChat-enabled, we’re eternally thankful for the countless smartphone-free moments we had with our daughter. At the same time, the difference of having a child born in 1999 vs 2003 and the the difference between the two is significant. Our son has always had a tendency to get “hooked” by forms of media. We have to be even more diligent with our youngest due to the pervasiveness of the smartphone. Enjoy these precious years. As your boys age, I hope you debunk the common trope that teen years are more difficult and less enjoyable. That can be a self-fulfilling prophesy we never bought into. Yes, there are more complicated issues but the kids are far more interesting and fun in our experience.
Great thoughts. How we as parents model our cell phone usage is going to have impact on our kids for so many reasons. I keep thinking about how I want my children to treat my grandchildren when the time comes. This helps me stay focused on my intentions.
Thanks for this reminder of how important it is to stay focused in the here and now.