Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Another text came through as I was trying to close out the day with my campers.
I got up from the grass to attend to the message in need of a response. It was only Tuesday, but I knew this was going to be normal for my week.
On this particular week, I was coordinating with 3 other groups in the field.
The weather was precarious.
A few campers were requiring more attention than expected.
I also had the normal check-ins with my wife and other work-related issues that arise.
My phone battery was in the red by the end of the day.
“My dad is always on his phone!”
Exhausted and annoyed at how much my phone required, I returned to the group and owned up to my grave faux pas.
For a wild nature play mentor, being on my phone too much is unacceptable.
“This is not the amount of phone time I like to bring into camp,” I began.
They understood my position as a site leader with extra responsibilities. But their acceptance and connecting stories surprised me.
“My dad is always on his phone,” one child replied. “Every time I ask him to listen to one of my stories he pulls out his phone and I’m like dad, dad...dad...DAD!!”
Another child offered, “When I ask my mom to play she says yes but then checks her phone. Usually, she says, ‘Go and play with your brother. I have to make a work call.’ I ALWAYS play with my brother.”
I didn’t know how to respond to these stories. I could only shake my head in acceptance and go about closing the day with reminders of our fun adventures.
I often tout limited screen time for our daughter.
Yet the reality is this is not what is always modeled for her.
She can already swipe, click, and open as good as any child who spends regular intervals on a touch screen. She is mirroring behavior with incredible efficiency as young children do.
It was not until this conversation that I realized it was my neglect of her which I should worry about. I could control her screen time but did not have control of my own.
This same evening I continued my distraction at home.
Around the corner from our home is a wonderful dirt mound created by a construction project. While my daughter climbed and threw the dirt I decided to make a phone call.
At some point, she sat next to me and began to pile dirt on my leg.
Lost in conversation, I didn’t even realize what she was doing until a dirt clod rolled into my underwear. How long had she been asking me to join in with subtle calls for attention?
This is a micro-neglect. A series of small departures from the moment repeated throughout the day.
These neglects leave my daughter feeling unseen and seeking attention.
Typing NEGLECT leaves me cringing. Yet, I choose to be honest, and neglect is the best word I can find.
I make hundreds of micro-neglects throughout the week when she is in my care. I leave the world of the present and dip into someone else’s call for attention.
My little companion attempts to connect but I am distracted. She knows nothing of work emails, catch-up phone calls, and “checking one more thing, honey.”
All she sees is her daddy tunnel-visioned and frozen on a little screen. She waits in anticipation for my return.
I had been gone all day anyway. She is getting used to me being gone.
This could be a bit dramatic.
Or another anecdotal criticism of smartphones and video games.
For me, this is an alert, a notification. I am missing something very important about how I spend time with my child.
The chorus of warning is continuing to build. We are headed for a deafening crescendo. The way we interact with our children is how they will interact with one another.
It is time that I set some serious limitations about when and how I let technology into my life.