When they should be running around the house screaming and playing, they wanted to sit on the couch with my phone.
- Teddy James
I recently undertook an experiment to boycott the public use of my phone. Let me explain what drove me to this.
Writing is my career. I spend eight hours a day writing and editing documents on a computer screen. Reading is my hobby. I love reading on my phone or tablet while we are getting the house quiet before the kids go to bed. Before I go to bed, I open my laptop and do more writing. The average American spends slightly over seven hours a day staring at a screen. My average is much higher.
I never thought it to be a problem until I started paying close attention to the behavior of my children, ages three and one. When they should be running around the house screaming and playing, they wanted to sit on the couch with my phone. When I handed them colors and paper, they asked for my tablet so they color on it. When I chose books to read to them, they wanted the animated books on my phone. When I started making up a story to tell them, they wanted to watch Frozen (again and again and again ad nauseam).
I could not fault my children for following the example I set for them. I came under the conviction that for their behavior to change, mine had to change first. But what could I do?
Part of my job is to know the news, so I have to follow the latest stories. I help lead our youth group at church; what if someone needs me? What if a co-worker needs me?
Those thoughts led me to create some rules for my boycott:
Rule 1: As soon as I get home, my phone is to be deposited on the dresser in the back of the house.
Rule 2: My phone can be on vibrate. My house is small enough that I can hear it vibrating from anywhere in the house.
Rule 3: I can only check my phone when the kids are occupied, and I can only check it in the bedroom.
Since taking up that challenge, I have made five big observations.
Observation 1: My children do not ask for my phone anymore. Maybe it’s because they don’t see me using it anymore. But more likely, it’s because they get my undivided attention now. Instead of just handing the paper and crayons to them while looking at my phone, I am now sitting at the table asking what color I should use for the eyes of my green horse. I also affirm that blue is a great color for the tail of a cat.
Observation 2: My children are less quiet. Maybe this isn’t the best result of putting away my phone. Instead of relying on my phone or the television for entertainment, they run from invisible monsters. Then they ask Daddy to run the monster off. Hero Daddy chases the monster off, only to become a new monster that chases them around the house while they scream. I would have asked my wife to take pictures but our phones were in the back.
Observation 3: Not only do my wife and I talk more, we talk about more important things. We are no longer talking about what I am writing or who I am texting. Now we are having heart-level discussions while I’m cutting the onions she needs for the spaghetti sauce.
Observation 4: One of the biggest truths I have observed is how little I miss. I have missed a few phone calls and sent delayed responses to text messages. But it typically takes me less than 20 minutes to get back in touch with a person. But to be honest, I would rather be known as the guy who always has to call you back than the dad who is always on the phone.
I know this experiment isn’t for everyone. There are some jobs, such as doctors, pastors, and emergency responders, who should always be close to their phones. But that leads me to the most important truth I observed.
Observation #5: I’m not that important. The world continues to spin even when I’m not a part of it. The country keeps running even when I’m unplugged. Work can and has survived without me. In fact, it is a little scary just how well work can run without me. The same cannot be said for my home.
So with all that in mind, I have learned that there is a balance to be sought. I hated missing the opportunity for a photo. I also missed many big news stories. But what balance looks like, I’m not sure yet. That is a truth I am still in search of.
What are your thoughts? How do you balance being connected to those in front of you and those trying to contact you?