John Ege

Parenting Cellphones

Blog Post created by John Ege Employee on Aug 3, 2016

I am a father of a two year old boy. I own a cell phone. My son knows the difference between my cell phone and my wife's cell phone; if he finds it unattended, he will bring it to me, as if I am a character lacking my prop. My wife and I have both expressed concerns about how much we in general use our cell phones, and on considering further, I proposed that our 'vegetarian day' also become our 'no cell phone' day, to which she responded: "You want that to be our unhappiest day?" Basically, we use our cellphones, probably too much, and we are aware of the impact it has on our life, our choices, and what its absence would mean.


Professionally, I am a counselor in the mental health field. I have heard some stories. And I see some stories unfolding outside the office, and I think, I will not have a shortage of future customers. Specifically, I am talking about our toddlers. I take my son to the park daily, giving my wife a well-deserved break from a full day of caring for our child while I am at work. We arrive at the park; I am present and attending to my son. This is not helicopter parenting; this is a crucial developmental, life affirming necessity. My son and I are engaged. I am also aware that very few other parents are. Kids are running amok while their parents are texting, and or watching videos, or playing games, some even wearing headphones to block out the rest of the world. These kids are my future clients. Occasionally a kid will yell and the parent, without looking up, will shout back 'if you don't stop that I am going to take you all home!' (An idle threat which is completely ignored because the kids have learned nothing will disengage her from her cell phone.) There are also the children yelling, "Mamma, look at me," answered by a non genuine "That's cool" or "I see you." They aren't even facing in the same direction! This is parenting today.


You think texting while driving is bad; well, this is worse. Almost everyone you ask will lament the failures of education, but if, no, when, our society collapses, there won't be anyone to blame but ourselves. This is fundamental. Schools are failing because homes are failing. The other day, I allowed myself to be interrupted while playing with my son, carrying him over to address a toddler, maybe 3 years old, who was standing in the middle of the playground crying. No other parent engaged the child. (Where are these maternal instincts? I scoffed.) There were five adult females in direct line of sight, but they did not look up from their phones. I timed it. I am probably the bad guy for waiting a solid three minutes before going to the child; but as a male, father or not, there is some inherent dangers in approaching a child that isn't yours. Yeah, statistically, your child is more likely to be molested by a family member than a stranger, but people tend to think the worst of men in parks. Given the fact no one seemed to be paying attention to the kid, I felt compelled to take a risk and check in. (Well, someone might actually be watching these kids... and the parent. Maybe the parent was abducted?) I addressed the child. He was lost. The three of us walked, skirting the park, purposefully not to leave the area, only to find his mother was outside of the park, presumably speaking to a boyfriend. (I am speculating based on the part of the conversation I could hear. She seemed irritated by the fact the kid was crying. She seemed equally peeved that I was interrupting her by asking her if this was her child, with the implied demand that she attend to it. She had two other kids running around the park, one younger, the other older, but not by much, going on looks and behaviors. Yeah. Future clients.)


This is not limited to parents, but also your sitters and nannies. You don't have to take my word for it. I live in Dallas. Go to the Galleria Mall during the week. There is a play area on the third floor, just for toddlers. You will see lots of nannies there, and they will be on their cellphones, and the kids are wild. Some of them actually leave the area and their care providers don't have a clue. Surprisingly enough, there are a few others that are actually engaged, but you can see it in their eyes, they are weary of correcting other people's kids, but they will if their child is threatened. My child will run to me, tag me in his safety check before running off to explore more. The other people's kids approach me, too, probably because they are aware that I am aware, and sometimes they seem baffled by my obvious difference. We, the engaged, look around for the missing parents. Sometimes I simply ask the child who has crossed into my bubble directly: "where is your parent?" and they look around, and they shrug, and then they run off. I am not alone in this experience. My wife experiences the same thing at the park and play areas, too.


The parks are not a dumping ground for kids, a place for parents to go and check out and have a break. If anything, I would imagine you would want to be more engaged and diligent than at other times, because you're being watched, by me, at least, by cameras in many places, and by people intending mischief. There is a reason the kid fell into the gorilla pit! These kids are raising themselves, and the parents are disinterested robots giving them food and saying I will get to you later. (Brings new meaning to the song "Cats in the Cradle" by Stevenson.) I don't know if you read 'Lord of the Flies' but it had a point. Left to their own devices, kids will push, hit, kick, bite, and kill, their primal instincts taking over. I assure you, human beings can run on instinct. By adulthood, our instincts and training become habits; adults frequently run on autopilot, doing things unconsciously. Like reaching for a cellphone to check messages, whether we have them or not. Our society ridicules people for reaching for cigarettes; meanwhile everyone is reaching for the cellphone. (Like lab rats, we have trained ourselves to respond to chirps and whistle for an imaginary pellet, a fix. A fix that leaves us frequently unsatisfied, needing more.) Is it any better? Would the world cease to be if we didn't check our phones?

If we want to raise civil adults, we have to be civilize. That means engaging our kids at fundamental levels. I think I can imagine how being a single parents is tough, and sometimes the cellphone is all people have to connect to another human being in our increasingly isolated culture. Even with two parents, parenting can be tough, so, I can't really imagine what it's like for a single parent. Ideally, we were supposed to be in groups, in eyesight of each other, watching out for each other, but now, all we see is data on a screen. I worry for some of these toddlers I see at the park, but I am more worried about what I am going to see in my office ten years from now. If you can drive from one place to another without your cell phone in reach, you will be doing something that most people aren't or can't. (If your child is in their seat in line of sight, they will be watching you.) If you can leave your cell phone in the car, hidden under the seat, when you take your kid to the park, you will be doing something no one else is doing. And your kids will remember. Because you will be the one standing out, the weird one, the one making a difference in their lives and in the lives of others. Cause the other kids see it too and they privately envy your child. No toy or material wealth will ever replace your active participation in this moment’s influence on your child's future search for contentment. And you if you can put away the cell phone and just be present, you will probably be one of the few adult talking to the other kids, too, whose parents are absent while physically present, because these kids have to go somewhere for that very human connection. If not you, well, most of the other avenues lead to my door or the funeral director's.